The clock is ticking. By February 24, as Leonardo Padura observed in a column this week, there will be 1,823 days remaining in Raúl Castro’s tenure as Cuba’s president, thanks to term limits he pushed through at the 2011 communist party conference.
All things being equal, just five years from now, Cuba will be led by someone whose name is neither Raúl nor Fidel Castro for the first time in 59 years.
By then, whoever is elected U.S. president in 2016 could inherit the same ossified and wildly ineffective structure of sanctions passed down – like the Cold War equivalent of a family bible – from Eisenhower to Kennedy to Johnson to Nixon to Ford to Carter to Reagan to Bush to Clinton to Bush and left on President Obama’s desk when he entered the Oval Office.
Even Senator Ted Cruz, a deeply conservative Cuban-American just elected from Texas, acknowledged in a question submitted for Chuck Hagel’s confirmation, that the existing policy has failed in its goal of dislodging the Castros.
What will Mr. Cruz say in 2018 about the embargo, which was designed to force from power two brothers who will have instead relinquished their posts voluntarily? Give it more time to work?
President Obama said nothing about Cuba in his State of the Union Address last Tuesday and, as Bloggings by Boz pointed out, he used just seven words, “Ford is bringing jobs back from Mexico,” to refer to just one nation in the Americas, seemingly by accident.
On Cuba, however, the president doesn’t need to say something in order to do something. His administration often excuses its inaction by saying the policy is in the court of Congress, “our hands are tied” by Helms-Burton Act restrictions on normalizing relations with Cuba.
In fact, that’s not really the problem. Policy makers should never harness the future of any foreign policy – not in Cuba or Venezuela or anyplace else –to the identity or mortality of any particular leader. That’s called letting the tail wag the dog.
The national interest ought to be our guide. That’s why Mr. Obama should use his executive authority to start making changes now, so when the presidency changes hands in Washington in 2016 and in Havana in 2018, there’s a plan already being implemented to normalize the relationship.
If he’s uncertain about where to begin, he needn’t look further than our roadmap for engagement with Cuba or to the editorial page of the Boston Globe, which this week offered simple and clear suggestions to “drag US policy into the 21st century” –
- Remove Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terror List
- Promote cultural exchanges
- End the Travel Ban so all Americans can visit Cuba
- Eventually allow trade in oil, gas, and other commodities
The Globe’s editorial ended with the suggestion that President Obama assign his Secretary of State John Kerry to make Cuba the focus of his first few months in office. That sounds right to us. After all, the clock is ticking and the president, like his counterpart in Havana, has a limited amount of time in office to get it done.
This week, in Cuba news…