For Cuba and U.S., making up is hard to do
(LPP Archive - "The Best Way To Feel The Touch" ) - Friday, January 23rd 2009, 10:59 AM
HAVANA — Raul Castro says Barack Obama seems like a good guy, and his brother Fidel says he's certain of Obama's honesty. The new U.S. president wants to sit down and negotiate, and is in a better position to do so than any other since Eisenhower.
But making up is hard to do. To restore relations and end the U.S. embargo, Obama would have to drop demands for democracy on the island, or Cuba would have to accept them — both unlikely scenarios.
— An ailing Fidel Castro handed the presidency to his brother Raul in 2006, removing a symbolic hurdle to closer ties.
— Obama didn't need the anti-Castro vote in Florida, once thought indispensable. In any case, a recent poll indicates most Cuban-Americans in the heart of Florida's exile community want an end to the embargo that bars most U.S.-Cuba trade and travel.
— A stream of Latin American leaders has visited Havana in recent weeks, and the region is beginning to speak with one voice against the U.S. embargo.
— Obama took heat during the campaign for saying he'd sit down with a Castro — and won anyway.
— And the Castros, who covered Havana with images of former President George W. Bush as a bloody-fanged vampire, actually seem to like the new president.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez was convinced of this after a private meeting with the elder Castro Wednesday, telling reporters that Fidel told her Obama is an honest man — "un hombre sincero."
Raul Castro chimed in: "He seems like a good man."
Fidel Castro said Thursday in his first essay in more than a month that he watched Obama's inaugural speech and "has no doubt of the honesty with which Obama ... expresses his ideas."
Obama's Cuba policy appears clear: He'll quickly end limits imposed by the Bush administration on the number of trips Cuban-Americans can make to see relatives, and on the amount of money they can send home.
He signed an order Thursday to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, which Cubans considered to be an affront to their patrimony — the U.S. naval base was built on land permanently leased from Cuba under terms imposed when American troops occupied the island in 1903.
But Obama said during the presidential campaign that he would keep the embargo in force, using it as a bargaining chip for democratic change in Cuba.
"The road to freedom for all Cubans must begin with justice for Cuba's political prisoners, the rights of free speech, a free press and freedom of assembly, and it must lead to elections that are free and fair," Obama said as he outlined his Latin America policy last May.