Friday, February 27, 2009

Dewayne Wickham: US-Cuba policy reeks of hypocrisy

Salem Statesman-Journal, Oregon

Opinion

Time has come to end the Cuba embargo

By DeWAYNE WICKHAM • Gannett News Service

February 27, 2009

This could be the beginning of the end for the 47-year U.S. economic embargo of Cuba.

A relic of the Cold War, this archaic attempt to strangle the life out of our communist neighbor was dealt a critical blow a few days ago when the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations released a report that brands the embargo an abysmal failure.

Not only has it not succeeded in toppling the government Fidel Castro installed in Cuba shortly after coming to power in 1959, but the embargo has also undermined U.S. foreign policy in other parts of the world, the report concluded. It "remains a contentious subject" with many Latin American countries and "a source of controversy between the U.S. and the European Union," said the report, which was prepared by a top aide to Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the panel's ranking Republican.

This country's Cuba policy is nearly universally condemned - and for good reason. It reeks of hypocrisy.

While successive administrations have used claims of lack of democratization and human rights abuses on the island to keep the restrictions on American travel and trade with Cuba in place, they maintained normal relations with nations that have more troubling records of mistreating their people, according to the State Department's annual report on human rights abuses around the world.

During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to loosen restrictions on how often Cuban Americans can travel to Cuba and how much money they can send to relatives there.

The Senate committee's report suggests that much more be done. It wants Congress to consider an outright end to the embargo.

The travel ban is an especially vexing problem. As it stands, Cuban Americans have a special right to travel to Cuba, while most other Americans are denied the freedom to visit the Caribbean nation. Enforcing a travel policy that's based on national origin is morally wrong - and legally questionable.

With all the foreign policy challenges facing the Obama administration, Cuba is low-hanging fruit that should be harvested quickly.

Ending the embargo will help the U.S. reclaim some of the moral high ground it has lost in Central and South America, where a growing number of leftist leaders have come to power berating this country for trying to impose our will on other nations in the hemisphere.

There's no good foreign policy reason to continue the embargo. This nation's engagement of China and Vietnam has done more to open up those communist societies than decades of diplomatic stalemate.

And neither is there a good domestic policy reason to continue the embargo. The Cuban-American vote in Florida - a state that often plays a decisive role in presidential elections - was not a key factor in 2008. While most Cuban Americans in Florida voted for Republican John McCain, a majority of the state's Hispanics who went to the polls voted for Obama, according to exit polls.

More importantly, a December poll of Cuban Americans by Florida International University found that nearly two of three favored ending the restrictions on sending money to Cuba and support allowing all Americans to travel freely there.

All of this suggests that those who still back the embargo are political dinosaurs who will soon discover that their time has passed.

DeWayne Wickham is a columnist for Gannett News Service, 7950 Jones Branch Road, McLean, VA 22107. Send e-mail to DeWayneWickham@aol.com.

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JG: Way to go Dewayne! I agree 100%.

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