Obama’s Stand on Cuba

By Circles Robinson

The blockade has hampered Cuba’s development and caused much suffering. photo: Caridad
The blockade has hampered Cuba’s development and caused much suffering. photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, April 11 – This month’s upcoming Americas Summit is a perfect chance to see inside the crystal ball of future US-Latin American relations.

With the US election campaign long over, and President Obama to reach his first 90 days in office while at the April 17-19 meeting in Trinidad and Tobago, the time to act is now, not later.

While there is no indication of much policy change in the more complicated near east, except for a slight shift in focus from Iraq to the occupation of Afghanistan, Latin America is the one place where numerous analysts are saying Obama is offered a low-hanging fruit ripe for the picking.

The analogy refers to rapprochement with Cuba and an about-face from a half-century policy of hostility towards the Caribbean neighbor. Doing so would please most Americans, US business people and Cubans and upset few people outside of the hardcore Miami exile crowd.

A CNN survey taken on April 3 found that 71 percent of those polled said that the U.S. should reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba, while only 27 percent opposed such a move.

However, that low-hanging fruit-written up in US newspaper editorials as a win-win situation for both countries, and a move that would do a lot to improve the poor US image throughout the continent-is not going to be there forever.

Ripe fruit either is picked or eventually drops and rots. It takes a full year for such a delicious opportunity to present itself again and if a storm in the wrong season occurs, it could take two years for a similar fruit to appear.

Out of Touch Ambassador

Obama’s advisor, Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow, who heads the administration’s prep team for Trinidad and Tobago, has shown the same disrespect for the region that has earned the US such a bad name.

Davidow accused Cuba of being the only undemocratic nation in the hemisphere, the “odd man out,” and thus should not be part of the Summit or its agenda. He speaks as if these are the former times when the US was capable of pressuring the hemisphere to accept its dictates.

“I think it would be unfortunate, actually, to lose the opportunity for this hemisphere – at the beginning of the Obama administration – to set down some guidelines and make some progress jointly by getting distracted by the Cuban issue,” Davidow said at a conference on Thursday.

Such an attitude is provoking a whirlwind of meetings and discussions between the different Latin American leaders that could lead to pressing Obama to show his real commitment to change in the US relationship with the region.

Obama already got a dose of friendly advice from Brazil’s Lula da Silva at the White House in March. Lula, who some say may be playing a behind the scenes mediation role, has publicly advised Obama to engage with Cuba and end the blockade.

The same message of the need to open dialogue was brought home by seven US Representatives, led by Barbara Lee (D-CA), who just go back from five days in Havana meeting with top Cuban authorities including President Raul Castro and former President Fidel Castro.

Ambassador Davidow is forgetting that while Cuba was indeed isolated 50 years ago, when the embargo was imposed, it’s now the US that is practically alone in the hemisphere and the world on its Cuba policy.

Just last November, 185 countries voted in the United Nations in favor of a Cuban resolution demanding the US end its blockade. Only two countries joined the US in opposing: Israel and Palau, a tiny former US colony.

The Blockade not the Travel Ban is the Big Issue

Flower sales in Old Havana. photo: Caridad
Flower sales in Old Havana. photo: Caridad

My friends in the US, who supported Obama, hope he is working behind the scenes towards dialogue with Cuba and change in US policy. Privileging Cuban-Americans to visit their families or even allowing US citizens to visit Cuba is not the biggest issue for Cuba or Latin America. After all, that is just punishment on US citizens by their government.

What the region’s leaders are demanding is an end to the economic blockade that has hampered Cuba’s development and caused much suffering.

Somehow, Cuba has still managed to provide an incredible amount of medical, educational and sports training assistance to dozens of countries abroad, in a rare policy of “sharing the little it has and not just leftovers or extras.”

The Americas Summit should provide a better picture of what “change” really means and what is just campaign rhetoric. I, like many of my friends in the US, am hoping for the best.

3 thoughts on “Obama’s Stand on Cuba

  • Great article. I am one of the 71% who want to see an end to the embargo. If we did not do business with countries like China, who routinely violate human rights, we may have some moral authority to criticize Cuba; however, we have established that trade is the real motivating factor in determining friendships. Cuba does not have anything that we want, and Cubans can not afford our goods; so they are not important to us. Hopefully, the Obama administration can rectify this ridiculous policy.

  • Circles Robinson,

    Thanks for your excellent article.

    “A CNN survey taken on April 3 found that 71 percent of those polled said that the U.S. should reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba, while only 27 percent opposed such a move.”

    I have a lot of faith in President Obama. I believe he will do the right thing for the benefit for Cuba and the Cuban people.

    Thinking to Cuba as a “ripe fruit” is totally offensive to me.


  • This is well written and clearly the goal must be the full normalization of diplomatic, cultural and economic relations. However, looking at the end goal should not take attention away from what President Obama can actually do.

    Going into the Summit, it is partly a question of attitude and tone and you are correct that Amb. Davidow is defensive to the point of sounding Bush-lite. [http://thehavananote.com/2009/04/americas_cuba_policy_is_the_ed.html]

    There is no practical or political reason why President Obama cannot

    1) Use his authority to immediately grant general licenses for unlimited use by all 12 codified categories of travel, including not only family but also for educational, religious, humanitarian, cultural and sports purposes

    2) Indicate that he welcomes and will sign legislation from Congress to restore the right to travel of all Americans, while hoping that Cuba will do the same for its own people.

    3) Announce that the US will dismantle the electronic billboard at the US Interests Section and support a reciprocal agreement for the Interest Sections in both countries to function in a more normal diplomatic fashion, including travel within the country and engaging in dialogue with a full range of official and unofficial persons while avoiding partisan intrusion in domestic affairs

    4) Instruct the State Department to issue visas for Cubans wishing to visit the US for academic, cultural, professional and people to people dialogue purposes

    5) Announce the appointment of a special representative such as Gov. Bill Richardson to begin high level discussions of available channels of practical cooperation and the resolution of all bilateral issues, including compensation for nationalized US property and the unilateral embargo

    If Obama were truly bold he could:

    1) Say the US has no objection, or even welcomes, Cuba’s participation in the Summit in whatever status is appropriate given its current non-membership in the OAS, a situation the US hopes will be soon addressed so the organization incorporates all countries in the Hemisphere on an equal basis.

    2) Use his legal authority to partially lift the embargo for humanitarian reasons, allowing Cuba to purchase construction and agricultural supplies and equipment needed because of hurricane damage, and authorizing a general license for American organizations and individuals who wish to donate such supplies

    3) Respond favorably to Raul Castro’s suggestion that mutual gestures could quickly resolve the problem of people imprisoned in each country which the other considers political (Cuban 5, Black Spring 54) [See Progresso Weekly article on the precedent for such gestures http://progreso-weekly.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=882&Itemid=1 ]

    4) Indicate that a review is taking place of Cuba’s inclusion in the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism

    5) State that the return of the territory of Guantanamo Bay to Cuba is a legitimate topic for bilateral discussion

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