It’s the end of the year, the end of the Bush administration. It’s time for a fresh start, and time to break the diplomatic deadlock between the United States and Cuba.
While the case for ending this conflict is overpowering, one big obstacle remains: Washington and Havana simply don’t trust each other. These governments have been talking past each other, and worse, for the last fifty years. If politicians and diplomats on both sides can’t even conduct a simple dialogue, then real progress – and, ultimately, reconciliation – will be impossible.
We know how President Obama can get this conversation started.
It’s in our new report – “9 Ways for US to Talk to Cuba and for Cuba to Talk to US” – scheduled for publication in January. You can download a summary here.
We recruited an exceptional team of scholars and experts to write about problems where Washington and Havana have strong national interests in finding solutions by working together. They offer concrete proposals for cooperation between Cuba and the United States in many areas, including military affairs, law enforcement, hurricane preparedness and trade.
If Washington and Havana can begin to cooperate in these fields, we believe it will help build the confidence they need to engage in the difficult negotiations that will finally bring this conflict to an end.
In the news summary, we discussed last week how aggressively and strategically Cuba is moving to raise the visibility of the embargo as a foreign policy issue, before Obama’s inauguration, by organizing nations of Latin America and the Caribbean to call for changes in U.S. policy.
But the political center of gravity is also changing here as well – and has done so substantially since the presidential election just seven weeks ago.
We held a media call with reporters on Tuesday to talk about the increasingly open political space for changing the policy.
On this call, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, a member of the House Democratic Leadership, discussed how she and her colleagues are working to pass legislation to repeal the travel ban. Carlos Saladrigas, cochairman of the Cuba Study Group (www.cubastudygroup.org), discussed their recent report which calls for the total repeal of restrictions on travel and remittances. Steven Clemons, who directs the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, talked about how he and other key foreign policy players believe that changing the policy is in the U.S. national interest. Professor Bill LeoGrande, the Dean of the American University School of Public Affairs, talked about negotiations with Cuba and the United States, a subject that he and Peter Kornbluh have addressed in a new article, “Talking with Castro,” in a new article to be published in Cigar Aficionado magazine in January.
With new energy in Congress, with a new political climate in Miami, with key foreign policy players expressing their support, and with heightened intellectual and policy activity all coalescing around the idea of reforming U.S. policy toward Cuba, we’re really believe that we’re on the threshold of big changes here.
So, keep all of this in mind, as you read our news summary this week.
- We’ve got “food for thought” which includes reports on how the U.S. agriculture community is looking at new opportunities for trade with Cuba in 2009;
- We’ve got new information on Cuba’s economy, its prospects for growth, and the effects that the global financial crisis is having on the island.
- You can say, “look who’s talking,” as you read reports about fresh calls from the region to end the embargo, and Guatemala announcing that its president will visit Cuba – the fifth leader from the region to announce plans to do so (following Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, and Mexico) in the early part of 2009.
- Finally, see two reports on Internet breakthroughs on the island.
As usual, there is a lot of news and even more to think about…this week, in Cuba news:
This is our interpretation of events cascading out of Latin America.
Cuba is engaged in a diplomatic offensive- along with the other nations of the Americas – that is anticipating the changing of the guard in Washington, DC. The target audience for this activity is President-elect Obama. It is strategic. It is coordinated. It is unfolding in plain view.
While the message is greater than the sum of its parts, the parts are pretty interesting by themselves.
President Raúl Castro has made another offer to engage in dialogue with President-elect Obama, and he publicly discussed a prisoner exchange offering to release political prisoners in Cuba for return of The Cuban Five.
Thirty-three Latin American and Caribbean heads of state issued a unanimous call for the United States to drop its embargo against Cuba. The Presidents of Ecuador, Argentina, and Mexico announced plans to visit Cuba early in 2009, joining President Michelle Bachelet of Chile, who previously announced her intentions to visit the Island next year.
Cuba and Venezuela signed agreements on energy, Cuba and Jamaica agreed to cooperate on tourism, and Cuba is about to host naval vessels from Russia for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
How do we read all of this escalating activity? On one hand, Cuba is offering to engage in diplomacy with the United States, and is putting the onus on Mr. Obama to decide whether he will be a willing partner once he enters the White House. To add to this intriguing new posture, President Castro put the subject of political prisoners in the mix, a reference to Obama’s campaign position on how he would move the U.S.-Cuba relationship forward. Like a chorus adding its encouragement, the entire region is raising its voice urging an end to the U.S. embargo of Cuba, another sign that the incoming president must consider.
At the same time, Cuba has another message – no matter how President Obama decides to respond to this opening, Cuba is moving forward aggressively to mend and extend its relationships in the region and the world, giving the United States another incentive to participate or risk being marginalized.
That’s our interpretation; what’s yours? And, what’s Obama’s?
This week was an extraordinary week in Cuba news…
Coming soon: “9 Ways for US to Talk to Cuba…” Coming now: calls for the US to lift the embargo and the travel ban.December 12, 2008
Every once in a while, we have to toot our own horn.
In January of 2009, The Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA) – whose Freedom to Travel campaign brings you the news summary each week – will be releasing a report titled “9 Ways for US to talk to Cuba and for Cuba to Talk to US.”
In the report, the CDA identifies nine critical areas where Washington and Havana can work together, and build relationships of confidence and trust, by solving problems in both countries’ national interests. A high-powered team of scholars and experts offer their ideas for cooperation in military affairs, migration, energy, trade, health, academic exchange and other fields which could then encourage both countries to make the kind of progress that has eluded our diplomats for fifty years.
The days of the embargo are clearly numbered, and U.S. policy will eventually change in ways that recognize Cuba’s sovereignty. But the question remains: how do you get there from where we are today?
This report offers a way forward. Watch this space, as the saying goes, for more information about the “9 Ways Report.”
Until then, we present this week in Cuba news:
Our public servants rarely “under-promise and over-deliver,” and all too often, the reverse is true, when the poetry of campaigning is replaced by the prose of governing.
But president-elect Barack Obama has a rare opportunity to exceed what he offered as a candidate when it comes to reforming Cuba policy and he should grab it.
To his credit, Obama won Florida and the White House without capitulating to the demands of the hard-line exile community on Cuba policy. In fact, the platform of his campaign offered the first rollback of the embargo – ending restrictions on the rights of Cuban Americans to visit and support their families and offering the prospect of negotiations with Cuba’s government (although on terms that Cuba has never accepted) – ever offered by a winning candidate.
Under normal circumstances, Mr. Obama might be expected to rest on his laurels and do just what he promised – or worse, he might even do less as lesser figures have done in the past.
But these are not normal times, and the president-elect has already demonstrated himself to be a different kind of leader.
As you will read in this week’s news summary, the center of gravity in this political debate is changing and has moved considerably since the election occurred just one month ago.
The business community, never a first mover in the Cuba debate, sent a strongly worded letter to Mr. Obama calling on him to end all restrictions on travel and trade. The Brookings Institution in a new report on rethinking U.S. policy on Latin America called for big changes in Cuba policy, such as removing Cuba’s government from the list of state sponsors of terror and allowing Cuba to join organizations like the OAS. The Council on Foreign Relations, earlier this year, also urged substantial changes in Cuba policy. It is a new and important development to have foreign policy elites publicly calling for these reforms.
As before, strong and important editorial voices – The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and the Palm Beach Post -added to the chorus calling for change.
Finally, a new poll of public opinion in South Florida showed strong majorities in the Cuban-American community for taking the policy in an entirely new direction.
All of this gives Mr. Obama the latitude to do more than what he promised on Cuba, and that returns us to the times in which we live and the kind of leader he intends to be.
In one bold step, Obama has the chance to end a failed and futile policy, write the last chapter of the Cold War, enter a new and close relationship with the Cuban people, and send a long-overdue signal to the rest of Latin America and the world that U.S. foreign policy is leaving a self-defeating period of isolation and entering a new era of engagement.
Why would he settle for anything less, and why should we?
This week, in Cuba news: