Sunday, November 09, 2008

U.S.-Cuba policy: Time for reform, easing restrictions

SunSentinel.com

By John McAuliff

November 9, 2008

In his victory speech in Chicago's Grant Park, President-elect Barack Obama recognized that there are "alliances to repair." The Democratic Party platform plank on Latin America pledged "We must turn the page on the arrogance in Washington."

United States policy toward Cuba is the easiest place to demonstrate that these words are more than rhetoric.

Five days before Obama spoke, national leaders at the Ibero-American Summit in El Salvador urged the United States to repeal its 47-year-old unilateral embargo against Cuba, saying it "is unacceptable and harms the Cuban people."

The week before, the UN General Assembly for the 17th time insisted with a virtually unanimous voice of 185-3 that the United States should end the embargo.

All our friends and allies in the Caribbean, the Western Hemisphere, Europe and Asia opposed us. Israel is our only significant supporter but actually follows a contrary policy as its citizens manage Cuba's largest citrus groves and are major investors in property development.

It is not enough for the president-elect to take the humanitarian step of unrestricted visits and remittances by Cuban Americans.

If he wants to restore U.S. regional and international credibility, he must quickly initiate a more significant policy change.

Obama cannot end the embargo without Congress. But he can unlock the logjam in both countries by using his legal authority to restore in a non-discriminatory fashion the constitutional right to travel to every American who wants to make "non-tourist" visits.

By regulatory fiat, the Office of Foreign Assets Control in the Treasury Department can restore and expand by general license the kind of journeys that took place before 2004 by world affairs councils, museums, Elderhostel, Semester at Sea, religious and humanitarian groups, sports teams, musicians, artists, professional and business associations, students, alumni, people-to-people exchanges and serious individuals.

Most such trips were blocked by the Bush administration, ostensibly because they provided funds to Cuba's government, but the pique of 75,000 opinion leaders and curious Americans hardly counted among two million European, Canadian and Latin American tourists.

The cost of U.S. self-isolation was confirmed when Washington's role model for responsible hemispheric leadership, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, announced in Havana last week that Raúl Castro will travel to Brazil in December "to participate in the first meeting of Latin American and Caribbean nations, without interference from any other power."

John McAuliff is executive director, Fund for Reconciliation and Development, www.ffrd.org

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JG: Upon taking office, President Barack Obama should send a request to Congress to ease or lift the Cuba embargo. There is no support in the world for continuing this failed policy. 185-3 are not just empty numbers.

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