Monday, March 16, 2009

Bob Barr: Time To Start Openings With Cuba

6:00 am March 16, 2009,

By Bob Barr

It’s been a full half a century — five decades, 50 years — since a relatively small band of Cuban insurgents forced Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista to abdicate and flee his Caribbean homeland, clearing the way for Fidel Castro to assume powers every bit as extensive as those wielded by the man he replaced. Love him or loathe him, you gotta give Fidel Castro credit for perseverance and political longevity. The “Maximum Leader” remained in power as head of the island nation from the time his band of revolutionaries toppled Batista on New Year’s Eve 1959, until illness nearly felled him in 2006 (he is now 82). His slightly younger brother Raul (77 years old) now heads Cuba’s government.

Washington severed relations with Havana in 1961. Since 1962 the U.S. has maintained a strict embargo on trade with Cuba, and our government prohibits most travel between the two countries. While the embargo has caused hardships for Cuba’s citizens, it has clearly failed in its political goal of toppling the Castro regime.

It is time for a change; this would be about as close to a no-brainer as you can get in international affairs. Taking some tangible steps to begin opening economic and political relations between Washington and Havana would be a clear winner for President Obama on the world stage; and opposition here at home, while still strong, especially among south Florida’s many Cuban immigrant families, is not nearly as vehement as in years past. The president would likely enjoy majority support in the Congress for at least some tangible moves to open a true dialog. Moreover, many American businesses, especially oil companies, are chomping at the bit to be able to invest and work in Cuba. As for me, I’d love to be able to buy Cuban cigars legally here in the U.S.

Obama should use the occasion of his first scheduled trip to the area — the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago next month — to go boldly where no U.S. president has gone in nearly 50 years, and formally take steps to start talking to and trading with Cuba.

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