Wednesday, November 3, 2010

After the wave

It seems almost absurd to look for the impact on Cuba policy on the morning after an election that spoke so sweepingly to economic issues.

But that’s our job.

The Obama Administration, Congressional Democrats, and Congressional Republicans – especially those now in charge in the House – all have to come to terms with a new landscape. It’s not hard to see that their policy work will center on job creation and the federal budget – and not on foreign policy, much less Latin America, much less Cuba.

As the current Congressional session wound down, the clock ran out on the main pro-engagement initiative regarding Cuba, which was the bill to end travel restrictions. It became clear that if a change in policy were to occur it would be not through legislation but rather through Executive action. Now, after the election, that is where we remain.

It is an open secret that the Administration wrote new regulations to liberalize non-tourist travel last summer, then failed to implement them out of political timidity.

My preference would be to end all travel restrictions regardless of Cuban behavior, but recent Cuban behavior adds a wrinkle to the discussion because President Obama has pegged his policies to change in Cuba. Raul Castro’s government is not creating a market economy or ending one-party socialism, but it is releasing political prisoners and embarking on economic policies that will expand the private sector. If President Obama doesn’t respond to incremental changes in Cuba with incremental changes of his own, his offer will at some point become a dead letter, and idea of constructive influence in Cuba (apart from unlimited Cuban-American travel) will be empty.

So the first new variable in the post-election equation is an old one, and it has to do with the Administration’s spine.

The second variable is in Congress, where Florida has sent Marco Rubio, a real class act, to the Senate, and where Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will now chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee. We know that they will hold the line on Cuba sanctions; what remains to be seen is whether they want to change current policies, and if so, how. With a Democratic Administration and Senate, new Cuba legislation is not a simple proposition. However, they can cajole the Administration on specific aspects of the policy.

Which brings us back to variable #1, making it all the more pivotal.


Anonymous said...

which further proves the point that American policy towards Cuba is strictly national, it is not foreign policy. it is a lie that America's position on Cuba is based on human rights, democracy or any other flimsy excuse they'd had for the past 50 years. it is in its entirety driven by local politics, and that's why it will never change -- to the everlasting shame of what is still called democracy in America.

Anonymous said...

if (ex-)foreign affairs committee chairman berman wouldn't have been so stupid (or venal? - why exactly did he accept $ 2.500,- from the 'cuban'-american extremist PAC for 'giving a presentation'?) not to yield jurisdiction on the travel legislation to the agricultural committee (where it had already been accepted with the cuba-related language intact), we would have gotten a vote in the (old) full congress and the legislation would most likely have passed.
berman's incredibly stupid move ruined the chances for that to happen for many years.
as long as the current campaign finance laws remain in place (which means forever) no major change in the US position towards the island will come about through legislation.
the only hope is a major oil find in cuban waters, which would bring big oil into the fight - and that's going to be the one the 'cuban'-american extremist oligarchs in Mimai are going to lose.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your assessment on legislation but there is room for the State Department and Secretary Clinton to possibly open some doors. Here is how it would work. Near the end of this year, Secretary Clinton should go to Cuba for the purpose of having talks on freeing the U.S. citizen being held for almost one year on charges that he was illegally distributing satellite telephones around to dissidents.
This would be perfect political cover with the likes of Miami's more right-wing community opposed to any political overtures. Who could oppose a tough-talking Hillary Clinton going down there to free an American?
With such trips in diplomacy,it is natural to discuss other issues separating the two countries and this trip would be symbollically important too.
Such an opportunity with Cuba seldom comes along with such perfect cover as this potential for our State Department to discuss freedom for an American being held on the Island.
Diplomacy is about protecting and advancing U.S. self interest. This would not be a 'fluff' visit although I'm certain that Cuban leaders would welcome Secretary Clinton with respect and a willingness to listen.
What do you think, Phil?