Friday, January 2, 2009

Hermosa Havana

The BBC has a strange article about Obama and Cuba. "Will Obama Shift Policy On Cuba?" it asks rhetorically, and answers itself: "analysts say Cuba might provide Mr Obama with an easy opportunity to bring about the kind of change to America's foreign policy that the world and Latin America in particular are waiting for."
From Russia to Iran, Iraq and Pakistan, "none of these crises will allow President Obama to signal swiftly to the world the kind of changes he proposes in American foreign policy," write Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief-of-staff to Colin Powell, and Patrick Doherty, from the New American Foundation.

"In contrast, US-Cuba policy is low-hanging fruit: though of marginal importance domestically, it could be changed immediately at little cost."

I agree with this, for what little it's worth: US-Cuba policy could be changed immediately at little cost. But the "analysts" quoted have no apparent connection to Obama, and the article offers no evidence that Obama intends to make any significant changes. "Hopes have been raised by statements made by Barack Obama himself and policies spelled out on his campaign website," the article continues, but a search for "Cuba" at yielded only economic "incubators" for domestic policy. And of course, there's the little matter of Obama's speech to Cuban exiles in Miami last summer, a sustained blast of hot air in which he declared his intention to "maintain the embargo." Since the BBC doesn't mention any change of course on that point, I presume there hasn't been one.

The article goes on to say that Raul Castro "has offered to free political dissidents in exchange for the release of five convicted Cuban spies in US prisons as a gesture to pave the way for a meeting with the incoming president." (Official US propaganda version here; another account here. Of course, given the US' long history of terrorism against Cuba, it is consistent with Cuba's right to protect itself from covert spies that Castro should send agents to the Miami exile community. The US harbors known Cuban terrorists, and certainly sees no problem with espionage against Cuba itself. Some of Cuba's political prisoners are surely US spies.) No evidence is given, however, that Obama has any interest in taking up Castro's offer, which has already been rejected by the Bush regime. The article quotes one Cuban-American who "said the best way to bring about change inside Cuba was to allow Cuban-Americans to become the agents of change by letting them visit the island." I think we've already been there, thanks.

So I tried a Google search for "Cuba" at, and found an advisory paper by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (in other words, not a policy statement) which argues for removal of the US blockade of Cuba. Its reasoning is interesting:
While the current isolation of Cuba has far outlasted its original purpose, U.S. policies impose real costs. For American businesses, the U.S. International Trade Commission estimated in 2001 that the Cuba embargo cost U.S. exporters up to $1.2 billion annually in lost sales. Business and farm groups along the U.S. Gulf coast rightly regard Cuba as a natural market, and some still remember their lucrative sales to the Cuban market in the years before the embargo.
Got that? The blockade should end because of its effect on U.S. business. Who cares about the Cubans? Certainly not the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. On the other hand, this kind of reasoning may be more likely to move the heart of a center-rightist like our President-to-Be than partisan bickering, sniping, and ideology about human rights.

P.S. A new article at the BBC says that "
Mr Obama has pledged to ease the 46-year-old US trade embargo against Cuba", but this appears not to be true. Obama has "pledged to ease restrictions on Cuban-Americans traveling to Cuba and sending money there," according to the New York Times last month, "but has said he wants to maintain the embargo to press for changes in the Communist-run country." (See also this article: Obama called for an end to the embargo when he first ran for the Senate in 2004, but when he went for the gold he reverted to the US government line.)

The same article, which reported the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, mentioned that, "Reacting to the anniversary, a White House spokesman said the US continued to seek freedom for the Cuban people." Awww. As if it ever had.