No-Drama-Obama quietly and gently has begun to reverse a full fifty years of errant U.S. policy toward Cuba.
The set of executive orders issued Monday lifts all travel restrictions by Cuban-Americans back home.
They also erase the $1200 a year limit imposed by G.W. Bush on the amount of money American residents can send to family member in Cuba. The policy shift also broadens the list of goods that can be sent to Cuba while nudging open the door for U.S. telecom companies to provide much-needed phone and cell service between the U.S. and Cuba.
No high drama. No major move. But just enough to be nothing less than historic. Historic because, as noted, this move begins the reversal of long-standing and failed policies.
The best part, is that Obama has made the first move and one very, very early in his administration. It will disappoint those who want the embargo lifted immediately (more on that in a moment). But it’s a measure that garners the support of much of the usually right-wing Cuban exile community, a pro-Republican interest group that got mighty p.o.’ed by the draconian restrictions on travel and remittances ordered by George Bush.
It’s also a measure that now puts the ball squarely in the court of the U.S. Congress…and of the regime in Cuba. Thanks to the inane Helms-Burton law, enacted in 1996 and signed by none other than President William Jefferson Clinton, lifting the embargo is no simple task. It would require an act of Congress who can hide behind a series of preconditions packed into the legislation.
Obama’s move also puts some much-needed pressure on the Cubans to get their act together. I might be wrong, I admit, but I have long argued that the Castro dynasty has never really wanted the U.S. embargo lifted. The barbudos doth protest a tad too much.
The embargo — rationalized as a measure to destabilize the Cuban dictatorship– is, in reality, the glue that continues to hold the whole shoddy show together. The now-phantom threat of U.S. invasion and the economic sting of the embrgo, is a wonderful nationalist bonding agent — about the last weapon left in the political arsenal of the Castro Brothers. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Obama’s move Monday, his clean break with the last half-century of American policy, in itself begins to rob the Cuban government of its convenient bogeyman. Who in Cuba is going to believe that an Obama-led America poses a threat of invasion? (Answer: only a few dozen “revolutionary” Americans who at any given moment can be found in a Havana hotel bar telling themselves they are vacationing in Paradise).
I never bought the argument that the reality of a belligerant Bush admin in Washington somehow justified censorship, repression and oppression in Havana. It’s a non-sequitor. We don’t believe the threat of Al Qaeda justifies suspension of the U.S. constitution, do we? Are Cubans somehow entitled to a lower grade of civil liberties than we are?
So those of us who wish to lift the embargo now have the obligation to demand that the Cuban government start to make some tangible concessions toward democratization.
Raul Castro putting a few cell phones up for sale and his family members suddenly embracing the same gays and lesbians that were once relegated to UMAP labor camps ain’t gonna cut it.
If Obama can enact a policy — no matter how modest– of creating an opening toward a “hostile” nation, then the Cuban government ought to be able to do the same in regard to its own population.
We will now see if Havana really wants the embargo lifted. Anyway you cut it, it’s going to be very tough to get it through Congress. But at least there’s now a glimmer of hope. That too will fade if nothing positive is forthcoming from Cuba.
For openers… If the U.S. government has lifted its travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans, why can’t the Cuban government lift travel restrictions on Cubans?
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