The old spat
The defining – and depressing – moment of the week was the exchange between the U.S. president and Cuba’s leadership, past and present. Fidel Castro called Mr. Obama’s speech before the UN “gibberish.” Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez speaking before the General Assembly blasted the embargo but restated Cuba’s interest in bilateral cooperation and normalizing relations.
President Obama – as he has on multiple occasions over the last year – said the U.S. would only change its stern policy toward Cuba if Havana took steps to justify lifting the embargo, but that he could detect no positive moment on the island.
In other words, aren’t we stuck in the same old, same old?
But look below the radar
On the U.S. side, we bring news this week of exchanges taking place bringing musicians, musical instruments, and marathon runners to Cuba, while a children’s theatre group, La Colmenita, gets a national tour of the U.S. These developments join other signs of progress – such as the growing list of U.S. airports approved to serve the U.S. market and the increasing numbers of U.S. visitors doing non-tourist travel.
On the Cuban side, we report today on a long-awaited reform opening a legal market to the private sale of automobiles, reforms and consolidations affecting Cuba’s government ministries, and U.S.-Cuba law enforcement cooperation leading to the repatriation of two fugitives from murder charges back to New Jersey to face justice.
What we believe
Cuba’s government is involved in a huge undertaking to reform its economy and some modesty is called for here in the U.S. as they make changes in a model that remained essentially static for fifty years. President Obama knows only too well that it’s hard to make sweeping changes aimed at addressing an economic crisis – while your people wait for results and your detractors waste no time criticizing your policies.
We believe it is a mistake to stick with the embargo as the president has – he recently renewed the statutory framework for another year – and that Mr. Obama should be more publicly encouraging of what Cuba is attempting to do, because a prosperous and more economically diverse Cuba will serve the interests of the Cuban people and the national interest of the United States.
At the same time, we do not minimize the practical and important effects that his travel and remittance reforms have already made and will continue to make (so long as they are not reversed by policy makers in the future). What is happening at the level of reality should not be obscured by what is happening at the levels of rhetoric and politics. It would be nice if they were in better alignment, but that might be asking more of the American system than it can deliver at this time.
This week in Cuba news…