In my view, the actions announced by the White House today are humanitarian, unsustainable, small-bore, a kind of inoculation, and a question mark. Let me explain:
- Humanitarian. The end of travel and remittance restrictions on Cuban Americans deserves applause. It’s the treatment that Cuban families deserve from the
government, allowing those who with to visit and send help to do so, and respecting the right of the rest not to do so. At a humanitarian level, it will bring great benefits to many Cuban families that receive visits and support from relatives in the U.S. . If, as seems likely, it results in significantly increased travel to United States , it will bring an injection of purchasing power that will raise the incomes of Cubans who rent rooms in their homes or drive private taxis, and it will bring others into those businesses. Considering that Cubans are now allowed to visit and stay in hotels, it will probably bring more income to Cuba ’s state tourism businesses too. Cuba
- Unsustainable. President Obama’s action probably makes the rest of our
travel policy unsustainable. Most Americans will remain under the Cold War regulations administered by the Treasury Department. Meanwhile, Cuban Americans will be a separate class, able to travel to Cuba and send money at will, which in practice will mean that some will go for a weekend, at times for vacation. President Obama is also changing the character of remittances. Today, $100 per month is enough to buy some household basics. Now, for some, unlimited remittances will mean small-scale investment – money for a brother to buy a car that will serve as a taxi, for a family to buy a new house, for a cousin to get all the equipment he needs to make his little farm work, for an aunt to renovate an apartment and create a separate room that she can rent out. I’m all for honoring the rights of Cuban Americans to do these things. Leaving aside the White House’s “best ambassadors for democracy” rhetoric, I would just say that the rest of the country has rights too, and the rest of Americans aren’t chopped liver. Cuba
- Small-bore. Today’s action – affecting travel and remittances, telecommunications equipment and services, and gift parcels – was dramatic because it changes eight years of movement in the opposite direction. But it still leaves President Obama with a 90 percent-Bush
policy. (Candidate Obama said that policy amounted to “tough talk that never yields results.”) Beyond Cuban Americans, it does not address the issue of broader contact with American society, whether from tourists, universities, professional associations, churches, synagogues, or other parts of our civil society. Nor does it address diplomacy, and the President’s spokesmen repeatedly dodged questions about what kind of dialogue the Administration might seek with Cuba . Presumably, these and other issues – TV Marti, the USAID program, etc. – remain part of the policy review that the Administration is conducting. In today’s press conference, the President’s spokesmen seemed to avoid foreclosing future options. Cuba
- Inoculation. The President’s press secretary said that today’s announcement was “in no way…done to quell so-called pressure” from leaders who have called for a new
policy toward U.S. , and who will meet President Obama at a summit this week. Ok. We’ll see how it plays at the Cuba Trinidadsummit.
- Divisive. The Obama Administration’s action divided Cuban American Republicans, drawing opposition from Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, and praise from Sen. Mel Martinez. And Radio Marti’s website has two stories illustrating the political gulf between Cuba and hard-line Miami: one notes the Diaz-Balart’s statement – and from Cuba, another tells of the support that President Obama’s action received from dissidents Elizardo Sanchez, Hector Palacios, and Vladimiro Roca.
- A question mark. The telecommunications provisions will have to play out. The full package of measures was framed in language that is not likely to play well among the Cuban political leadership, which would have to approve commercial agreements for new fiber optic links to the Internet or roaming agreements for
cell phone carriers. U.S.