New Cuba Policy in Sight?


Barack Obama
Barack Obama

HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 20 (IPS).- If elected, Democratic candidate Barack Obama could become the first United States president to engage in talks with Cuba after almost five decades of severed relations, but it will all depend on his refraining from trying to “control” a process that involves two sides, say academics from this Caribbean island nation.

Even before his official nomination, the U.S. presidential hopeful had talked of the possibility of pursuing “direct diplomacy” with Havana “without preconditions,” and had promised to put an end to the restrictions imposed by Washington in 2004 on the freedom of Cuban-American families to travel and send remittances to their relatives in Cuba.

“Obama was very clever in setting out his alternative policy, as he brought up two issues that are key to the Cuban-American community (economic and travel sanctions) and declared his willingness to sit down and talk with officials in Havana,” Esteban Morales, a Cuban academic and researcher, said in an interview with IPS.

In Morales’s opinion, the proposal marks a step forward, as it “takes the situation to a fresh starting point by eliminating unpopular restrictions set by the George W. Bush administration and raising the possibility of opening official talks, something which until now was unheard of.” However, on this last point, Obama has made a mistake that “puts Cuba on its guard,” according to Morales.

Speaking in Miami, Florida before the Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF) — traditionally the most hard-line and influential anti-Castro group –, Obama said during the primary campaign in May that “there will be careful preparation” for such negotiations, and that these would be based on “a clear agenda.”

“As president, I would be willing to lead that diplomacy at a time and place of my choosing, but only when we have an opportunity to advance the interests of the United States, and to advance the cause of freedom for the Cuban people,” he added.

Morales finds this approach “rather arrogant.” “He went as far as to say that the groups that represent Cuban emigrés should be included in these talks, and the way he expressed himself was as if he should be the one to determine when the talks would take place, what issues would be on the agenda and who would participate,” he said.

Morales, a researcher at the University of Havana’s Centre for the Study of the Hemisphere and the United States (CEHSEU), went on to say that Obama is wrong in wanting to steer the process down the path of U.S.-controlled talks. “This is an issue that must be decided by mutual agreement, and must be negotiated with Cuba,” he said.

He pointed out that Cuban President Raúl Castro has said on more than one occasion that Cuba is willing to negotiate to find a solution to the long-standing bilateral conflict, provided that its “independence” is respected and that discussions be “guided by the principles of equality, reciprocity, non-interference and mutual respect.”

With regard to defining a possible agenda for such talks, Morales said that “the key factor is that the parties cannot come to the negotiating table with preconditions.” “If that is achieved, the rest is just drawing up a smart list of issues mutually agreed on, ranging from the most simple matters to the most complex,” he said.

In Morales’s view, the embargo imposed in the early 1960s, which Obama says he will not lift, is a “political problem” that could be left out of the debate if both countries decide not to discuss it.

In that case, the two nations could begin to regularize economic relations on the basis of the already existing trade flow, which is limited to food imports by Cuba paid up front in cash.

The talks, he says, could then address ways to expand current trade to include other products, the possibility of exporting Cuban goods to the U.S., the negotiation of new terms of trade, and the question of credit, with the aim of facilitating transactions.

In spite of the restrictions in place, since 2001 the U.S. has become a major supplier of foodstuffs to Cuba, which now purchases 35 percent of its food imports from that country.

Morales believes Obama has a firm chance of prevailing over his opponent, Republican Party candidate John McCain, in the Nov. 4 elections. “I’d like to see him win. I think that with Obama in office, the possibilities for change would be richer,” the analyst told IPS.

However, he says it would be “easier” for a Republican to dismantle the current U.S. Cuba policy than for a Democrat.

“Republicans are very pragmatic, more consistent from an ideological point of view. Such decisions would be questioned far less if they came from someone in their ranks than from a Democrat,” he said.

Morales views the nomination of an Afro-American as presidential candidate as an unprecedented decision. “I believe that racism and intolerance have declined in the last 30 or 40 years, but not to the point of disappearing entirely. We still have to see if people in the U.S. are truly prepared to accept a black president. We won’t know until the elections,” he said.

The Cuban government’s opinion of the two U.S. presidential candidates has until now been virtually monopolized by former Cuban President Fidel Castro, for whom Obama “is superior in both intelligence and serenity” to McCain, “one of the worst students in his West Point Academy class.”

In an op ed column published Oct. 12 in the Cuban press, Castro warned that “the United States is marked by profound racism, and millions of whites cannot reconcile their minds with the idea that a black man with his wife and children would move into the White House, which is called just that: White.”

In this sense, “it is by pure miracle that the Democratic candidate has not suffered the same fate as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and others who in recent decades dreamt of equality and justice,” Castro said, referring to the assassination of these civil rights activists in the 1960s.

In a previous commentary, Fidel Castro had criticized the Democratic candidate’s foreign policy platform for Cuba, claiming it could be translated into a formula for condemning the country to hunger, with remittances as handouts and visits as propaganda for consumerism and the unsustainable way of life it is based on.

7 thoughts on “New Cuba Policy in Sight?

  • I am all for a better relationship with Cuba, I am all for talk to accelerate the normal relationship, but I would like to also see more opening and transparency from the botto, up, meaning accountability at every step of power. Above all, I do not want to see more military men in uniforms ruling a country because they do not produce; rather, they are consuming a tremendous amount of collective effort, resources and national wealth.
    I am very concerned about the freedom that Cubans are going to get. I have seen that freedom in Latin America where a police lieutenant does not report to his captain, the lower court fails to disclose to the higher court, and the upper class rules at its will. Ah… and the racism that it is dormant in that society– where will it go? In other words, a more humane society in action, not in a book or in a superficial headline. They have tremendous challlanges ahead, and only an intellligent mind and a visionary will conquer these obstacles!

  • Merry Christmas for the people in Cuba, and God bless you.

  • I can’t wait for the day that I travel back to Cuba without conditions. The last and only time I traveled to Cuba I used the calle 8 black market to enter Cuba. The hard line right ultra right wing (communist) Miami exiles (mafia)should not be included in any talks when Obama takes office. Or maybe they should, and explain to the new administration how the blockade will work the next 50 years.

  • I’m betting that Obama will improve relations with Cuba. But, it will take a little time. Our economy here
    in the United States is falling apart. Millions of people are being laid-off, millions of people are losing
    their homes to foreclosure. I know many homeless people. We are in an economic emergency. It all
    started with the disgusting greed of banks and financial institutions all across the United States. It
    will take Obama quite a while, and all his time, to stabilize our economic decline. Most people I
    know have placed great hope in Obama. Eventually he will consider other problems, such as
    improving relations with Cuba. I think it will happen, eventually. In the meantime, please wish all
    of us here in the United States your best!!

  • I agree with Mr. Morales. Although I feel that Senator Obama would be an improvement over the current occupant of the White House, he appears to be setting up unacceptable pre-conditions for his proposed talks with Cuba.

    The hard line ultra right wing organizations of the Miami exiles should not be included in any proposed talks, and that includes CANF. They represent the interests of the United States and not those of the Cuban people.

    The Senator from Illinois must learn to accept that Cuba became free on January First, 1959.

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