News / Americas

US Policy Change on Cuba Stalled by Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama greets Cuban President Raul Castro at memorial service for late South African President Nelson Mandela, Johannesburg, Dec. 10, 2013.
U.S. President Barack Obama greets Cuban President Raul Castro at memorial service for late South African President Nelson Mandela, Johannesburg, Dec. 10, 2013.
Reuters
U.S. relations with Cuba are at their best in almost two decades, but President Barack Obama seems unwilling or unable to confront a well-organized anti-Cuba lobby and push for further progress.

Obama suggested change was coming at a Miami fundraiser in November, saying “we have to be creative, and we have to be thoughtful, and we have to continue to update our policies” on Cuba, and yet he has withheld using his executive power since last easing Cuban travel restrictions in January 2011.

Many Cuba experts and policy analysts say a fundamental revision of Cuba policy is overdue and that greater U.S. involvement could promote the market-oriented reforms under way on the communist-ruled island since Cuban President Raul Castro took over for his ailing brother Fidel in 2008.

The Obama administration says Cuba must first improve human rights and release imprisoned U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who was sentenced to 15 years for attempting to establish an illegal communications network on the island.

“Cuba would make it a whole lot easier if they would just release Alan Gross,” said one U.S. official who is knowledgeable about Cuba policy and asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue.

“Whenever you move on Cuba policy there is always fierce opposition from some members of Congress. There's never a good time to do it. And it's not clear that the benefits outweigh the negatives,” the official said.

Officials from both countries have told Reuters that U.S.-Cuban relations have taken on a more serious and pragmatic tone in recent months. They have cooperated on drug interdiction, oil-spill mitigation and immigration. Cuba experts say bilateral relations have not been this good since the 1990s, in U.S. President Bill Clinton's first term.

The most vexing problem is the detention of Gross.

Cuba has shown no interest in releasing him without first  seeing a U.S. gesture, such as releasing the “Cuban Five” agents arrested in Florida in 1998 and convicted in 2001 for spying.

That puts the burden on Obama to create a solution. U.S. officials have refused to swap the four Cubans - soon to be three - remaining in prison for Gross. One option would be for the U.S. State Department to remove Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, which carries economic sanctions on top of those from the U.S. economic embargo in place since 1962.

Any concession would provoke howls of protest from the influential anti-Castro lobby, which demands changes within the one-party state before it would ease its hard line. Havana clearly wants improved relations but is unwilling to make concessions just to please Washington.

The handshake

When Obama shook Raul Castro's hand in South Africa at a memorial service for Nelson Mandela in December, it followed a series of improvements in ties between two countries separated by just 90 miles (145 km) of sea, but half a century of hostility.

In his State of the Union speech last month, Obama promised to act alone when Congress refuses. But so far he has given little indication that Cuba policy is a priority.

Obama cannot lift the economic embargo without Congress, where there is serious opposition from both parties, but he could further liberalize travel restrictions and promote more cultural exchanges, as he first did in 2009.

Cuba analysts who advocate a greater opening argue that Obama should not wait for Cuba to act, that he can loosen remittance policy and support Cuba's growing private sector by allowing U.S. businesses and investors to deal more directly with Cubans. Although U.S. law blocks most commerce, Obama could pursue a national-interest or presidential waiver, experts say.

“The question should be, 'Does it advance U.S. interests?' and the answer is yes,” said Richard Feinberg, a former National Security Council aide to Clinton who visits Cuba regularly and has briefed the Obama White House.

Rest of the West

The European Union is on the verge of reengaging Cuba in economic cooperation talks, and Latin American countries continue to deepen ties with Cuba.

“The present foreign policy of Cuba is becoming more and more realistic in searching for economic partners in order to go ahead with the updating of the economic system,” said Carlos Alzugaray, a retired former senior Cuban diplomat, noting the inauguration last month of a Brazilian-financed upgrade of the port at Mariel, near Havana, designed to boost trade.

In part because of the U.S. embargo, Cuba's current trade policy is focused on its socialist allies, notably oil-rich Venezuela, which provides Havana with cheap oil.

“Raul [Castro] is concerned that the Venezuelan ATM machine is not going to be there forever,” said Paul Hare, a former British ambassador to Cuba.

Across the Florida Straits, the influence of the anti-Castro forces in Miami is legendary, but it is also waning with generational change. Exit polls showed Obama won close to half the Cuban-American vote in Florida in 2012 and took the state's much larger non-Cuban Latino vote handily.

Despite the changing politics, Obama appears unwilling to confront intense Republican opposition or alienate New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat and Cuban-American who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a fervid supporter of the embargo.

For the last decade the Cuban exile lobby has poured money into targeted congressional races and created a solid block of bipartisan support, including almost 90 Democrats.

“We have made sure to have our presence felt in campaigns around the country getting like-minded people elected,” said Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, which lobbies for a strict embargo.

Claver-Carone said his political action committee has put $5 million into congressional campaigns since 2003.

“We are now the single largest foreign policy PAC in the country,” he said, “and by far the largest Hispanic PAC ever in history.”

You May Like

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

US Coast Guard Rescues 33 Cubans at Sea

Because the overloaded boat did not make landfall, those rescued will be returned to Cuba
More

Search Underway at New Site in Mexico Missing Students Case

This week marked one month since the students went missing after clashing with police in mysterious circumstances
More

Public Transport in Latin America, Asia Most Dangerous for Women

Thousands of women and gender experts were questioned to create the listing
More

Kerry Lays Wreath for Slain Canadian Soldier

World has been witness to Canada's strength in face of tragedy, he says
More

Crowds Gather for Funeral of Canadian Soldier Killed in Ottawa

Corporal Nathan Cirillo, 24, was shot dead in last week near Canada's parliament building in attack allegedly carried out by convert to Islam
More

Mexico Makes New Arrests in Student Disappearances

Attorney General says four more gang members from the Guerreros Unidos cartel who 'organized the disappearance' of the teacher trainees are in custody
More