Obama free to change U.S.-Cuba policy
(LPP Archive)Wednesday, December 3rd 2008, 11:23 AM
Obama said during the campaign that immediately after taking office on Jan. 20, he will lift all restrictions on family travel and cash remittances to Cuba — not just roll them back to previous rules that were tightened by the Bush administration.
Obama also said he would uphold the embargo imposed after the island went communist, to use as leverage until Cuba shows "significant steps toward democracy," starting with freedom for approximately 219 jailed political prisoners.
For nearly five decades, the embargo is where the two nations have been stuck, each side demanding that the other change first.
What's different now is that Obama says he will talk directly with Cuban President Raul Castro, who recently and repeatedly offered to negotiate on neutral ground as equals.
These openings have Cubans feeling more optimistic about getting unstuck than ever before.
"What we want is that the Americans no longer look at us as enemies," saidLazaro Medardo, 68, who was selling sunflowers, red roses and gladiolas from a pushcart in old Havana on Monday. "We aren't their enemies."
Cuban-Americans have had a mixed reaction to Obama's campaign promises — most voted against him, but Obama carried Florida and didn't even need the state's votes to win the presidency, confounding the notion that the support of anti-Castro Cuban exiles is essential in presidential elections.
A new poll in the heart of Florida's Cuban-American community even indicates that most there now believe the embargo should end.
"Obama already has a much freer hand than Bush did," said Daniel Erickson of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington, D.C. think tank. "He does not owe any of his political success to Cuban-Americans in South Florida."
Obama is therefore free to chart a new course. He can reverse some policies ofPresident George W. Bush with a pen stroke, and while undoing the embargo would take a majority in Congress, that's easier than ever with Democrats holding sizable majorities.
A fresh U.S. approach could improve relations across Latin America, according to a report last week from the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, which said America's Cuba policy has hindered Washington's ability to work with other countries throughout the region.