Magazine article New Internationalist

Obama's Cuba Challenge

Magazine article New Internationalist

Obama's Cuba Challenge

Article excerpt

In a few short months President Barack Obama has moved quickly on a range of Important policy Issues, Including US-Cuba relations. The tough economic embargo imposed by the US in 1962 is still In place but there have been small steps to reduce its impact.

The island is now widely accepted as a legitimate member of the Latin American community of nations and almost all countries across the region have called for an end to the blockade. US businesses are anxious to pounce on the Cuban market and even prominent Republicans now oppose the embargo.

As Cuban novelist Leonardo Padur Fuentes argues, the US embargo has accomplished the exact opposite of what was intended. It's both stymied political change and completely failed to stimulate either freedom or democracy.

It's Important to remember that before an end to the US embargo of Cuba became even remotely conceivable, certain major international developments had to take place: the profound political shift in Latin America, the moving election of the first black president of the United States (a man, moreover, committed to change in its widest sense) and the financial and economic cataclysm that has shaken the capitalist system to its roots. Without these events the commercial, economic and financial embargo/blockade of Cuba, decreed 47 years ago (since February 1962) may have continued for who knows how long in its perennial form, condemned by many in international forums, denounced by the Cuban Government, suffered by the Cuban people and kept in place by successive US administrations that believed it could force political change in Havana.

But the change that Washington was after never came and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had to recognize, finally, the clear failure of the US policy towards Cuba. In his speech to the Fifth Summit of the Americas meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad, last April, President Barack Obama went even further, suggesting: ? think that we can move Cuban-American relations in a new direction.' He made it clear that he was not talking this way just to look good in a setting where the lack of representatives from Cuba and the problem of the embargo were recurring issues.

Thus far there have been more words than action. But there is no doubt that a new wind is blowing. The Obama administration eliminated restrictions on travel to Cuba by Cubans living in the US and on remittances to family members on the island. And there is the possibility that new contracts will be negotiated to improve communications between the US and Cuba. It is no accident that after those initiatives President Raul Castro expressed to the new administration in Washington his openness to 'discuss anything- human rights, freedom of the press, political detainees' with only one condition: that talks be conducted 'between equals, without the minimum shadow cast on our sovereignty'.

But President Obama, an enemy of empty rhetoric, could not escape the usual formulae, and noted that Cuba would have to take steps towards reconciliation and demonstrate its desire for change to bring about the greatest possible understanding between the countries.

What he seems to have forgotten is that the embargo was an indispensable ally of the Cuban Government. For decades it generated considerable political capital and international solidarity and was used deftly by Havana both to justify domestic policy and to be the scapegoat for many of the shortages that made life on the island more difficult. …

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