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

    Video For Many US Veterans, the Vietnam War Continues

    More than 40 years after it ended, war in Vietnam and America’s role in it continue to provoke bitter debate, especially among those who fought in it

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    100 immigrants graduated Friday as US citizens in New York, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in cities across country

    Family's Fight Pays Off With Arlington Cemetery Burial Rights for WASPs

    Policy that allowed the Women Airforce Service Pilots veterans to receive burial rites at Arlington had been revoked in 2015

    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.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora

    More Americas News

    Coca Cola to Halt Some Production in Venezuela

    Sugar shortages and a deep recession have been forcing production shutdowns across the country

    Recording Allegedly Shows Minister Plotting Against Brazil's Rousseff

    Planning Minister Romero Jucá, who will step down temporarily, denies allegation, says words in published transcript of tape were taken out of context

    Mercury Poisoning Prompts Peru to Declare State of Emergency in Amazon

    People, rivers and fish poisoned; government blames illegal gold mining

    Peru's Fujimori Faces Money-laundering Investigation

    Probe opened in March, but became widely known Friday after report in Lima newspaper; investigation is focused on alleged suspicious financial transactions and campaign contributions

    'El Chapo' Cleared for Extradition to the United States

    Drug lord's lawyers say they are filing multiple legal challenges to extradition order

    Diego Rivera Painting Sells Privately for $15.7 Million

    'Dance in Tehuantepec,' created in 1928, is the most important Rivera work in private hands outside of Mexico