Thursday, August 23, 2012

US-Cuba ties unlikely to change after elections

Testy relations between Cuba and the United States are unlikely to change regardless of who wins the November 6 US presidential election, Cuban analysts say.
There are a mere 90 miles between Cuba and the tip of Florida, a key battleground state that is home to a sizable Cuban-American community. But Washington and Havana have not had full diplomatic relations since 1961, and the island has been under a US trade embargo for half a century.
This year, Cuba is barely a blip in the re-election campaign of Democratic President Barack Obama or the White House bid of his Republican rival, Mitt Romney.
"In previous US presidential campaigns the candidates competed to see who could take a tougher and more bellicose stance" towards Cuba, said Carlos Alzugaray of the Center of Hemispheric Studies at the University of Havana.
"That doesn't happen any more," he told AFP.
The once-influential anti-Castro activists in Florida were expecting Romney to choose conservative Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio as his running mate, which would have brought Cuba into the campaign and made it an important issue if he were to be elected, said Cuban analyst Arturo Lopez-Levy at the University of Denver.
Romney however chose Paul Ryan, a free-trade advocate who "is one of the Republican politicians most consistent in voting against the US embargo on Cuba," Lopez-Levy wrote in a recent article.
But once picked, Ryan backtracked and, on the campaign trail, said he and Romney would maintain the tough sanctions.
In January, Romney promised to tighten sanctions on the communist regime, but did not raise the issue again at a campaign rally in Miami last week, although most participants were Cuban-American.
Romney "believes that he already has the majority of the Cuban-American electorate on his side," so he can risk alienating some voters over the issue, according to Lopez-Levy.
Under Obama, it has become easier to travel to Cuba and for Cubans in the United States to send money to relatives on the island. Restrictions on sports, cultural and religious travel have also been relaxed.
If Obama is re-elected, he may decide "other changes that go beyond what has been done up to now," but this would not imply "seriously modifying" US policy towards Cuba, Alzugaray said.
The Obama changes have benefited Cubans both in Florida and on the island, said Esteban Morales of the University of Havana.
Cuban-Americans themselves oppose the tough restrictions to visit the island or send funds to relatives.
Still, "bothering Cuban people with the goal of affecting Fidel Castro's regime to earn a massive number of votes in Florida no longer works," Morales told AFP. "That tactic is history."
"If the embargo has survived" this long, said Lopez-Levy, "it is precisely because Cuba is not a priority among voters or ... the powerful interests."

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