Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Chill Enters US-Cuba Relations after Obama's Brief Thaw

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Chill Enters US-Cuba Relations after Obama's Brief Thaw

Article excerpt

President Obama has made several goodwill gestures toward Havana, giving US businesses the hope that Cuba relations could improve. But the Castro regime appears unwilling to compromise.

US business is setting its sights on Cuba, but the interest comes just as President Obama is stepping back from his policy of engagement with the Castro regime.

With more Cuban-Americans traveling to the island country as a result of loosened US travel restrictions aimed at improving Cuba relations, Cuban oil, agriculture, and infrastructure are beckoning as promising markets for American investors and farmers.

But the opening of Cuba's totalitarian political system - the sine qua non of increased American ties - is nowhere in sight, Cuba economic experts say, meaning the perennial hopes of US business are likely to be dashed once again.

"The Cubans are being very clear that they will accept absolutely no conditions in terms of normalization with the United States - none," says Anna Szterenfeld, Latin America editor of the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Mr. Obama seems to have come to the same conclusion. Last week he released a statement suggesting disappointment in the Cuban regime's response to the gestures he made last year as part of what he envisioned as a mutual warming.

"Instead of embracing an opportunity to enter a new era, Cuban authorities continue to respond to the aspirations of the Cuban people with a clenched fist," Obama said.

Cuban crackdown

The immediate cause of the presidential statement was the very public repression in Havana days earlier of a protest by the so- called Ladies in White, the relatives of Cuba's political prisoners. Video circled the globe of government-affiliated counterdemonstrators heckling and attacking the marchers, who included the mother of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, an imprisoned dissident who died in February after a prolonged hunger strike.

Mr. Zapata's death set off a round of hunger strikes by other political prisoners that have evoked strong condemnation from other normally friendly governments, such as Mexico and Spain. …

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