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

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

1 Billion People Used Facebook on Single Day

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg praised the accomplishment in a posting on the social media site 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs

More Americas News

Brazil's Rousseff Faces Growing Impeachment Threat

President’s woes increasing as she now also faces angry rival who controls the possibility of impeachment proceedings against her
More

Cancer, Transplant Patients Rail at Drug Shortages in Venezuela

Currency controls, slumping production and smuggling have caused acute shortages of medical supplies in the socialist-led nation
More

Guatemalan Prosecutors Urge President to Resign Amid Scandal

Government comptrollers' office also issued a statement saying Perez Molina should resign 'to avoid greater social unrest that could have unpredictable consequences'
More

Bolt Sprints to Double Gold in Beijing

Jamaican's victories take place on track where in 2008 he first made headlines by winning Olympic gold medals in record fashion at Bird's Nest Stadium
More

Red Cross Makes Plea for Documentation on 'Disappeared'

1980s saw disappearance of thousands of people as consequence of political unrest; disappeared now include people who go missing in natural disasters and wars
More

WFP: Haiti Drought Cuts Harvests, Raises Prices, Food Crisis Looms

Drought has led to acute water shortages, shrivelled harvests and raised food prices, weakening fragile food supply and worsening hunger among poor
More