Obama Grits His Teeth at Cuba

by Circles Robinson

Hugo Chavez presents Barck Obama with Eduardo Galeano's classic, "The Open Veins of Latin America" at the 2009 Summit of the Americas, when there was hope for a new relationship between the US and Latin America. Photo: cubadebate.cu

HAVANA TIMES, April 13 —US President Barack Obama today laid the blame for poor US-Cuba relations squarely on Havana for its not acquiescing to Washington’s demands on how the island should be governed.

Obama is heading for Cartagena, Colombia on Friday where the stonewalling by the US on its Cuba policy is likely to be a hot subject at the Summit of the Americas, set for April 14-15.

Washington has maintained a half-century economic embargo on Cuba as well as a travel ban that prohibits US citizens from visiting the neighboring country without a special US Treasury Department license.

The embargo — designed to cripple the island’s economy, while the travel ban assists that effort and keeps Cuban life out of the reach of US citizens — has prevailed throughout ten US presidencies, with little hope for change currently on the table.

Trying to nix the Cuba issue before arriving, Obama told Colombia’s El Tiempo daily and other Latin American newspapers that Cuba’s exclusion from the summit is the fault of that country’s government.

“Cuban authorities have shown no interest whatsoever in changing their relations with the United States and also no disposition to respecting the democratic and human rights of the Cuban people.”

“Even during the recent visit to that country by Pope Benedict XVI, Cuban authorities insisted that Cuba is to remain a single-party state and proceeded to continue persecuting those who raise their voices in support of the rights of the Cuban people,” Obama added.

Logo of the VI Summit of the Americas (April 14-15)

Cuba has not taken part in any of the previous five meetings of the Summit of the Americas. Though host Colombia and other Latin American countries wanted to invite the Caribbean nation to the Cartagena gathering, the United States staunchly refused – therefore Havana was not issued an invitation, noted the dpa news service.

In an attempt to show that he had gone the extra mile, the US president added, “I have clearly said we are looking for a new era in relations between our two countries. As president, I have made the most significant changes in several decades in our policy towards Cuba, including allowing family visits and making it possible for citizens to send remittances that grant a certain hope and independence to the people of Cuba.”

He did not mention that the crippling embargo, the key issue to improved relations, remains intact.  Even many critics of the Cuban system believe the embargo is ineffective and should be ended. They claim it provides a catch-all excuse for erred policies of the Castro government.

The issue of the travel ban is actually a punishment the US government applies on its own citizens and is not an issue for Cuba, which welcomes US visitors as it does those from other countries.

Obama made it clear that a regime change in Havana is necessary for more substantial changes in ties, concluded dpa.

Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa is boycotting the Summit of the Americas in protest of the exclusion of Cuba. Similarly, several other countries — including the Colombian host — are critical of the stance by the US and are saying that such a policy must change for future events.


18 thoughts on “Obama Grits His Teeth at Cuba

  • Dani: I wholeheartedly agree! You’ve hit the nail on the head.

  • Dani: Superb comments! Thanks.

  • For Moses: I grew up in the Ozarks of Missouri. We were “dirt poor”! Yet my brother and I went on to get university degrees and graduate degrees. I taught a Cuban unversity for two fall semeters during the Clinton years and toward the end of the “special period”! So…once again, you make assumptions about me that are stereotypical of you point of view! I have lived with Cuban families, traveled from one side of Cuba to the other, and led multiple delegations to Cuba! You are NOT talking to an “ivory tower” academic in my case.

    I understand your criticisms of the Cuban governmental system and the lack of many freedoms we enjoy in the U.S.! The issue is ……… how do we best, over time, allow Cuba to bring about its own changes, in its own time, in its own way? You seem to think that what has not worked will somehow, some day work! Isolation, hate, embargos accomplish little to nothing!

    One day Fidel and Raul will no longer be on this earth as will be the case for a lot of the old Cuban Americans in Miami. The U.S. needs to begin to postion itself to be in a place where it can have some degree of impact on making a positive contribution to the people of Cuba as the PEOPLE of Cuba begin to institute the changes they, as a soverign people, choose, not dictated by the U.S. or Miami Cubans who want to reclaim lost properties.

    Let me encourage you to try and get past your hate for the Castros. It poisons your ability to see more clearly into the more distant future and the positive possibilities that can come to Cuba and her beautiful people. There are many of us here in the U.S. who never want to see a Cuba dominated by corporate America, organized crime, or a 21st century version of the Platt Amendment!

  • For Moses: First and foremost you attribute to me an aspect of my view of Cuba which is not mine nor do you have the right to assume such about what is in my mind. You refer to how my…..”little unspoiled island fantasies go away…!” as related to what would happen if the embargo were to be ended.

    The you have the audacity to instruct me to ….”Get real!” Well Mr. Moses, touche! Maybe it is you who needs to get real. After fitty years the embargo is nothing more than a failed relic of the Cold War and has done nothing to bring change to Cuba. Actually, it is the U.S. that is now the isolated nation regarding that subject.

    My dad, who only made it through the sixth grade, had more common sense than you and all those who continue to support a 50-year-old failure of the U.S. embargo against Cuba. I remember his saying about stupid people doing stupid things over and over and over expecting to get a different result at some point is like the man sitting on his dead horse whipping it all day telling all around him that if he whips it long enough it will eventually get up and run! Moses, the embargo is a DEAD HORSE!

    Appearently you have paid little attention to the events in Cartegena, Columbia this past weekend. We have lost all support among our Latin American and South American friends due to our continued, outdated policy toward Cuba. Once again, we are only isolating the U.S., not Cuba, and looking rather dumb in the eyes of the rest of the world.

    I have no desire to see Cuba raped once again by U.S. corporations. Lifiting the embargo while allowing Cuba to continue its economic reforms in its own way on its own schedule can prevail. Constructive engagement is the best and surest path to seeing a form of western democracy also evolve at some point down the road along side the economic reforms. Cuba is not China! Cuba’s history, commerce, culture, sports, etc. are closely tied to the U.S. and history will see this born out again.

    The Castro led revolution gave Cuba that which it never had, national sovereignty! Cuba now has its own self-identity and self-determination as a people and nation. No matter how much I or you may not like much of the current Cuban government, one cannot deny this truth. End the Embago! Enter into constructive engagement! It is the future path of U.S. foreign polilcy toward Cuba and you and the neo-Republicans cannot stop this movement of history!

  • Moses,
    You keep to referring to your residency in Cuba, as if that gives you special expertise. Yet, I notice you don’t claim to be Cuban. Nor do you use the word ‘we’ when you refer to Cuban policies: “They need permission to change jobs, travel, etc…”

    Yet if you are not a Cuban citizen who needed permission to come and go, were you perhaps attached to the US Interests Section? Or maybe the Canadian or Spanish, or British, or French Embassy? For that matter, the NATO Countries all present a pretty mixed set of viewpoints when it comes to Cuba – against the Boycott, but adversarial on other matters.

    I somehow doubt if you are from Latin America, altho that is a possibility.

    This is not intended as an attack. But, most of the rest of us are up-front about our point of view and beliefs. If you are not Cuban, but actually were there on either business or official duties of some kind, you obviously did not live the life of most Cubans. Rather, you occupied a position of wealth and influence [comparatively speaking]. If I am right, you POV concerning Cuba, its economy, and its Government, is even less valid than that of the rest of us.

    While we may be a mixed bag of Lefties, Righties, tourists, and ex-Pats; we all speak from the POV of the average person, with the usual baggage of experiences, both good and bad. Someone who presents a purchased viewpoint, without declaring who paid the money it is simply dishonest!

  • Specifically for Wiley Cyote: That whole “open up trade argument” is bogus. There are only 11 million poor people on the island. Sure a few more thousand US jobs might be created at best (yawn) if we were able to sell a few more random US produce and products to Cuba. But the reality is they are broke! Worse off by far than Americans. The Cubans who can afford more US products are already buying our stuff on the black market or their family in Spain or Miami is sending to them. The only thing that would change dramatically is tourism. If that happens, all your little unspoiled island fantasies go away and Cuba becomes Puerto Rico/Dominican Republic.

    Yes, I am interested in knowing what is in it for Americans. Do you think Cubans don’t think about Cuba? Swedes don’t care about Sweden? Duh!!! International respect? Watch the London Olympics this summer. Americans gain/lose more international respect in those 16 days than the 20-plus years of anti-embargo votes in the UN. Sad, very sad but true. Get real. Ending the embargo serves one and ONLY one purpose: it takes the power away from the Cuban mafia in Miami and disperses it among the tourism industry. The tourism lobby in Washington is richer and more powerful that South Florida will ever be. You want to help Cuba, convince the airlines and hotel and fast-food giants that there’s gold in them thar’ hills and bye, bye embargo!

  • America could benefit from increased trade and investment in Cuba, for example joint ventures on oil exploration. Also Cuba is the only country in the world that has a level HDI combined with a sustainable carbon footprint (ref The Spirit Level). So first world countries like America do have something to learn.

    But what does America gain from the continuing stalemate? I can’t really see anything. It just damages its image in the world, since it is illegal, immoral and way past its sell by date.

    I don’t think the Human Rights issue can be used to justify it either. If you look at the index figures for Human Rights compiled by the Observer you will see that Cuba stands two positions above the US out of the whole world (this includes the development factor in the figure). There are many countries in the middle east with appalling human rights records that America is quite happy to trade with.

    If Barack Obama wants to see a new era he should apologize for past aggression and say categorically that America recognizes the independence of Cuba and its right to self-determination. Also that the blockade will be dropped and that America is willing to come to a settlement regarding finances, that is American losses due to Nationalization, Cuban losses due to confiscated assets and the blockade.

  • In response to all you who responded from what is clearly a far left of center point of view. I would ask which of you has ever actually lived in Cuba as I did? (I left last year) For those of you who yearn for a socialist world I would ask where other than in academia or in your trust fund upper middle class gringo minds does this world exists or as far as we know has ever existed! People, by nature, strive to create a world for their children better than the one they live in. That is of course is unless you grew up in some Connecticut upper class suburb. In that case there is no better world for you since you had every material convienence that ever existed. But for the rest of us, materialism is not a dirty word. The very freedom to criticize the US system enjoyed by the readers above who claim to support the Cuban regime does not exist in Cuba. In other words, if you lived in Cuba and wanted to criticize Cuba the same way you can live in the US and yet criticize the US, you would face being arrested and would certainly be harassed and detained. There is no doubt that US foreign policy toward Latin America has been flawed and wrought with regime change, coup d’etats and assassinations and probably worse. So you wish to trade it for what Cuba offers? Are you nuts? They have to ask permission to change jobs. They have to ask permission to travel. They have to ask permission to NOT attend a “voluntary” public mass given by the Pope. We may be the frying pan but they are definitely the fire. While Fidel may not officially hold public office, is there anyone that believes for one second that if wants a policy changed or a program eliminated or a bleepin’ street painted green, it won’t happen? He is, was and will be as long as he draws breath the dictator of Cuba. Raul, is his own man and certainly makes his own decisions and will continue to do so as long as Fidel says so.

  • First, your comments are egocentric at the national level. The “ugly American” sydrome prevails. It is all about us and how WE will benefit! On this issue, the rest of the world votes against us on an annual basis in the United Nations as our postion on Cuba is viewed as a morally bankrupt, failed policy. Just maybe what we would gain is renewed respect by much of the world, especially those countries of Latin and South America!

    Another GAIN for the average “Joe” U. S. citizen would be jobs! Open up trade and hundreds of thousands of jobs would be created as a result. Raw products of all kinds are needed in Cuba for construction! Wood, cement, rebar, etc.! Paint! Farm machinery! Spare auto parts for old U.S. autos! The list of U.S. manufactured goods is almost endless!

    The Helms/Burton legislation took the U.S. embargo to an international level and brought it into violation of international law! If certain parts of vital medical products are manufactured in the U.S. then shipped to Germany to complete the German manufactured equipment – Germany is prohibited from selling this equipment to Cuba! If Cuba sells its sugar to France and France uses this Cuban sugar to manufacture a food product it cannot export that food product to the U.S.! Tell me sir, who does this hurt? Who does this help? It is a fools recipe!

    The only individuals who now profit from the current U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba are a handful of greedy, power-hungry Cuban American politicians in Washington, D.C. and some old, dying Cuban Americans in Miami with lots of money and a hate for the Castro brothers that will die with them.

    They do not seem to object to trade and travel with/to China! Shop at Wal-Mart! Buy Chinese! God forbid we should trade with a tiny island just a few miles off our coast!

    Opening up trade and travel with/to Cuba is a win/win for the common people of BOTH nations and a defeat for the elite politicos!!!!!

  • It is obvious that most readers of HT freely read many articles on the internet. I’d imagine most of you also peruse the US bloggers on Huff Post etc.

    I do too, altho I dislike Huff Post. I still check it out to see who is being vilified this week, and by whom – and am seldom disappointed. What an education in poorly informed, illogical writing!

    Because of the Internat’l Conference in Columbia this week, there has been a real increase of articles about Cuba. Especially with the untimely complements for Fidel from the new manager of the Miami Marlins. Poor guy, he’ll probably rot in hell before the Miami Mafia will forgive him!

    This morning, I not only checked out the blogs, I made the mistake of going to Google News and reading the articles about Cuba. Amazing!

    85 year old Fidel is ‘our Hitler’! Cuba is undemocratic and a police state where people live in fear 24 hours a day. It’s Government is the worst possible in the World. Worse yet, they have invaded most of the world with their music, athletes and doctors. Cuba would probably even help those poor bastards in Guantanamo to regain their health.

    These so called ‘news’ articles are mostly written by close observers of Cuba who have not been there in 50 years, if ever.

    As for the quality of food in Cuba and the price, that is like comparing apples and pigs feet. Yes, Safeway vegetables and chicken are prettier and relatively cheaper than what I saw in Cuba in 2008. They have also been shipped 3000 miles at who knows how much energy cost, and they are stuffed full of legal and illegal chemicals and antibiotics.

    I grow most of my own vegetables and fruits, and buy local and/or organic whenever I can. It’s healthier and more expensive, but at least I am not supporting big Pharma and big Agro Industrials who would just as soon kill me as cure me!

    Rather than believing every bad thing, or good thing you read about any subject, read both the good, the bad, and the indifferent. Read some books, and not just non-fiction. Fiction often gives a truer portrait of a country than biased non-fiction [Dr Zhivago anyone?]

    Is Cuba and it Government perfect? No! but of all the countries I’ve visited in the past 15 years, it is the only one I hope to visit again, and to stay longer than the month I spent last time. Of course, the trip would put me at risk of being strip-searched, as well as x-rayed at the airport in the name of National Security. And I would still be subjected to all the comforts of the Greyhound Bus I rode in the 1950s!

  • The reason for the 50 year Cuban embargo is the same reason for the U.S overthrow of the governments in Guatemala in 1954, the Chilean government in 1973, the Grenadan government in 1983, the sandista revolution in the 80s, the invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965, the interventions in El Salvador, Haiti, Guyana, Suriname and many many more.

    They were all to prevent the success of a socialist economy in the hemisphere that would set a good example for other countries to follow.

    Those who doubt this should read the (quite long) Introduction to ‘Killing Hope” available on line and get an understanding of U. S. foreign policy . The book is highly recommended by Noam Chomsky and is not for those on the right .

  • Fidel retired about five years ago and takes no part in running the country. He writes his “Reflections” column on a regular basis.

    Multi-party electoral systems are a farce in the U.S where there is really just a Capitalist Party and a dictatorship of money .

    Capitalism is a totalitarian system and is incompatible with and totally corrupting of multi-party electoral systems.

  • While I agree with Circles that the US embargo and travel ban are counter-productive and should be ended, Cuba’s membership in the OAS is another matter.

    It’s worth remembering that only 30 years ago, Latin America was dominated by military dictatorships. Today, however imperfect multiparty democracy and adherence to human rights standards may be continue to be in some countries, Cuba stands alone in being ruled by a one party military dictatorship that systematically denies fundamental human rights and civil liberties to its citizens.

    The safeguarding of this process of democratization results in no small part from the adoption by OAS members of the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the establishment of human rights mechanisms to enforce those rights. Until Cuba is prepared to at least minimally adhere to these democratic and human rights standards, it should continue to be excluded from OAS membership.

  • You say Cuba does not have basic human rights. Do americans? Is you healthcare free? Can you afford a university education? Can you speak against your government and it’s invasion of other countries without ending up on a “list”? Cuba has never invaded another country to seize “weapons of mass destruction” That they , and everyone else knew did not exist. Oil did though. America, noble? Once it was. That was a long time ago. I served in your armed forces and fought in foreign lands, but as a Canadian, I refuse to believe the American bullshit anymore.

  • i have been to cuba a few times moses, so i know very well about the conditions of the average cuban. they are deplorable. and i have also seen cubans afraid to speak freely with me. it is no doubt a dictatorial system, and one that forces cubans to not only surrender their dignity, but surrender their ideas and dreams, which simply reinforces my argument that the embargo should be lifted. no matter how iron fisted the leaderships rule is in cuba, it will not be able to withstand the tidal wave that would be unleashed upon it by an influx of american goods and tourists.

    i am well aware of food sales to cuba, but these united states have more to offer cuba than food. the entire market place of goods and services could be opened up to cuba and average cubans would DEMAND change from their government.
    it is true that a run of the mill hospital in cuba is quite shabby, but they are renowned for a bio-tech industry that we could benefit from, and they have developed vaccines for various conditions that we could also benefit from. i find it rude of you to scoff at those achievments, as they were acclomplished with the hands of hardworking and itelligent cubans.

    but again, the point of ending the embargo is simple. doing so would spell the end of a dicticorial regime, as well as benefit the people of both the u.s. and cuba.

  • Cuban food? Are you serious? Have you ever been to Cuba? The oldest joke I know about Cuba is “what are the 3 worst things about the Cuban revolution? answer: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Besides, everybody knows the best Cuban restaurants in the world are in Miami. Science and technology? Nope. Well, okay, if you want the recipes for the poor man’s antibiotics, foot cancer treatment and organic farm techniques, then yes, Cuba is the way to go. But I much prefer the clinical trial-proven name brand version medicines for me and my loved ones. Technology? Again, we are talking about the country still using dial-up internet. As far as organic farming, I shop at Safeway and they always have a variety of fresh beautiful produce. I used to shop at the Agromercados in La Habana and they seldom had produce old and ugly . See my point? Oh yeah, you said exchange of ideas, right? You realize that you are talking about people who have not been allowed to think on their own for 53 years. We already get their best musicians, actors, and athletes so no gain there. Sorry Rob, not convincing enough. Anyone else?

    One other point: You mentioned opening up markets. We already sell roughly 40 % of the food Cuba purchases abroad. Keep in mind, we are talking about a market smaller than the city of Los Angeles with the buying power of Fresno. I guess you haven’t heard about the Cuban government’s reputation regarding paying their debts. Well, here it is…they don’t. Just ask Mexico about a $400 million debt owed to them for the last 10 years. I would not do business there even if my last name was Castro. Anyway, I just don’t see what’s in it for us to let up the pressure now.

  • since the embargo hasn’t achieved its goal of toppling the cuban political system it seems rather pointless to keep trying. perhaps another 50 yrs will do the trick? the main reason for ending the embargo, and the main and most beneficial reason to end the embargo for amercans and cubans alike is this: the free flow of people and ideas, as well as goods and services.
    when it comes to ideas, americans and cubans could teach each other a lot.
    an exchange of goods and services would benefit americans as it would open a new market for american products to a nation that is so close to us. americans would also benefit from some of cuba’s medical sciences and technology.

  • I have asked this question of many and no one has been able to give me a convincing answer. Why should the US compromise one iota with regards to our current Cuba policy. What is in it for the average American in Fresno, California or Peoria, Illinois or Silver Springs, Maryland? Will a reader of this blog respond to this question? It is obvious what Cubans will benefit, but for an American it is not so clearcut is it? Please spare me the morality rhetoric. Not while the Castros continue to deny basic human rights. Given the population of 11 million relatively poor Cubans, Cuba does not command the economic draw that say a Mexico or a Brazil does. There must be a cubanologists out there somewhere who can enlighten me?

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