What’s at stake for US-Cuba relations in the American presidential election?
By Nick Miroff, GlobalPost
HAVANA, Cuba — Foreign policy will be the focus of the final US presidential debate on Oct. 22, and since the event will be held in Boca Raton, Fla., the candidates could face questions on Cuba. Neither President Obama nor GOP nominee Mitt Romney is offering any major new policy prescriptions for the common goal of ending Castro rule on the island. Rather, their Cuba plans stick close to party orthodoxy: Republicans want to bring change by squeezing the communist government; Democrats say engagement works better than isolation.
Romney’s 10-point Cuba plan would essentially revert US policy to the George W. Bush era, rolling back Obama administration measures that have eased restrictions on travel and cash remittances sent by Cubans in the US to their relatives on the island. “No accommodation, no appeasement,” is theRomney tagline on Cuba. Less clear is what President Obama might do in a second term, when he will no longer be bound by the demands of electoral politics in Florida, where anti-Castro stridency remains a powerful force.
Obama came to office saying he would sit down for tough negotiations with Cuba’s leaders, but his administration has shown little interest in pushing past the long US stalemate with the island, according to advocates of Cuba policy reform. “The president has not made Cuba policy a priority except for overdue, incremental reforms,” said Sarah Stephens, whose Washington, DC-based Center for Democracy in the Americas urges rapprochement with Cuba. “With his leadership and attention, a lot could change, but I hope that his priority is on diplomacy and engaging the Cuban government rather than making small reforms with the hope of eliciting a reaction,” she said. “That’s the road to progress.”
The United States has drawn escalating criticism in Latin America over its 52-year-old Cuba embargo, even from key allies in the region like Colombia. But only Congress — not the president — has the power to lift the embargo against Cuba, which are the world’s longest-running unilateral trade sanctions. Still, other elements of US policy can be tweaked by executive order. One would further liberalize American travel to the island. Under the Bush administration, Cuban Americans were limited to one trip every three years. Obama has lifted those restrictions, arguing that unfettered travel by Cuban Americans maximizes Cubans’ exposure to the democratic values of their US relatives.
Editor’s Note: The source used near the end of this story — Phil Peters – works for the Lexington Institute, an organization discredited years ago for writing flattering news stories on its corporate sponsors in the defense sector. Coverage on their money-for-stories approach can be found here: Analyst’s switch stirs tanker talk, Press-Register, By Sean Reilly, June 09, 2008 and “Sherritt, Cuba, and the Cubanologist, http://www.babalublog.com/archives/007969.html, April 8, 2008.