By Elíades Acosta Matos
What in February was reason for the optimistic headline "Obama tears down wall with Cuba"  and in March was reduced to a cautious "Obama eases the pressure on Cuba"  has turned in August, five months later, into a succinct announcement: "OFAC announces a 'specific license' for those who make repeat trips to Cuba." 
As our grandmothers would say, "happiness doesn't last long in the poor man's house."
That shoot of hope that sprouted after the cruel winter of Bush, that initial joy over the long-delayed family reunion, that warming sensation that light could be seen at the end of the tunnel of loneliness lasted only seven months. The rarely shared joy that shook both shores of the stormy Straits of Florida has just been quashed with this announcement from the OFAC.
The harsh reality of politics, of government bureaucracy and the pressure groups in Miami, intent on raising the temperature of the pressure boilers and proposing a problem for every solution has surprised the Cubans' good faith. It may also have surprised the Democratic administration itself, which in February stated, through presidential aide Frank Sánchez, that "a dose of realism has descended on the White House, in terms of the Cuban issue." 
We had all thought that the correct appreciation of reality would bring an end to the absurd prohibitions and the interminable paperwork that placed in the hands of officials (frequently ignorant of our customs and traditions) the possibility of reuniting with relatives on the island and with people who, while not part of our bloodline (as frequently happens among us) have played an important role in our lives.
In 2004, after President Bush tightened the screws on such procedures, uncles, nephews and cousins were eliminated by decree from the Cuban family tree. Cuban-Americans could travel to the island only every three years, remain there no longer than 14 days and spend only 50 dollars a day.
The end of that novela of confusion and errors came (we thought) in March of this year, when the U.S. Congress passed, 62-35, measures that eased the restrictions. Uncles, nephews and cousins rejoined the family tree, Cuban-Americans were granted one annual trip to the island, could stay there for as long as they wished and could spend as much as 170 dollars a day.
We shouldn't be surprised, then, that those sensible first measures of the Obama administration presaged others, which might include a lifting of the ban on tourism by U.S. citizens, the establishment of academic, sports and cultural exchanges, and the gradual easing of the measures that form that stupid straitjacket known as the economic blockade against Cuba.
"The first black president of the United States knows that changing a 50-year-old policy overnight is a pipe dream but dismantling it a little at a time is not," wrote a euphoric journalist of Cuban origin.  And after five months, the stubborn reality Victor Hugo spoke about seems to be teaching us -- through an apparently harmless questionnaire from the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control -- that failed and obsolete policies are not only difficult to dismantle but also silently undermine the new policies created to replace them.
The so-called "Specific License for Repeat Travelers to Cuba" is designed "for persons who have traveled to Cuba after March 11, 2009 and need to travel again." Although its formulation is ambiguous, it is supposed to be for people who wish to travel a second time, in the same year. This is not a minor subtlety. Were it to be mechanically applied, it might violate the same rule on which it's based, because that rule grants no fewer than one trip a year to each Cuban. Why, then, is it subjected to an additional control?
Even in the cases for which it has been especially designed, the "Specific License" contains the following troubling elements, which depart from the meaning of the measures approved by Congress and endorsed by the Obama administration:
• The Specific License obligates the applicant to state that "The person I seek to visit in Cuba is my close relative, or I am accompanying another traveler to visit his or her close relative in Cuba and I share a common dwelling as a family with that traveler."  It sounds like a riddle and the question arises: in the case of a couple who are separated or about to divorce, is the fact that they don't share a common dwelling sufficient reason for an OFAC official to deny them the opportunity to visit their relatives together for perhaps the last time?
• The Specific License defines "close relative." In this manner, the "government of change" has retained the rules set by the previous administration but also has restated an un-Cuban concept that disrespectfully defines the Cuban family: "A close relative is that person related to me by blood, marriage or adoption, whose relationship, or that of my relative with whom I share a common ancestry, does not go beyond the third generation." Consequently, in Cuba, where life expectancy grows yearly and where it is easy to find families with great-grandmothers and great-grandchildren, great-great-grandfathers and great-great-grandchildren, this new ruling rejects the universally accepted concept of what is family and a close relative. And that's not just in the Hispanic culture.
• The mere fact of asking Cubans who wish to visit their relatives to apply for a "Specific License" and trying to impose bureaucratic rules on relations that neither natural life nor human feelings have ever commanded is a coercive, discriminatory, dissuasive and intimidating measure. Consequently, the confrontational stance taken by the previous administrations in relation to Cuba and Cubans remains in the background but still visible. Could the OFAC, without appealing to political reasoning, try to impose such licenses on the rest of the immigrants living in the United States?
It may be that a president in times of crisis, like Barack Obama, does not have the time to learn that an apparently routine form from a government office could torpedo his credibility and the credibility of his policies toward Cuba. Many others may not perceive this, but the truth is that good intentions and beautiful words -- if not expressed through concrete deeds -- mean nothing.
And the man who reveres the African grandmother who lived on the shores of Lake Victoria, the man who, on his visit to Kenya, took every opportunity to honor his ancestors, following the wise African tradition that also came to the New World with millions of slaves, should know that someone who is not as wise or so respectful is kidnapping the great-grandmothers and the great-great-grandchildren of the Cuban people.
Deeds, not words, Mr. President.
Elíades Acosta Matos, a philosopher, political-science doctor and writer, is a member of the Progreso Semanal/Weekly team.
 Lissette Bustamante: “Obama derriba el muro con Cuba.” Público, Feb. 15, 2009.
 Yolanda Monge: “Obama suaviza la presión sobre Cuba”, El País, March 11, 2009.
 Progreso Semanal: “OFAC announces 'Specific License' for repeat travelers to Cuba,” Aug. 20, 2009.
 Lissette Bustamente. Op. cit.
 Progreso Semanal: Op. cit.