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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Obama Straight Talk on Cuba

By BARACK OBAMA*, re-imagined by Circles Robinson**

When my father was a young man living in impoverished Kenya, the freedom and opportunity of the United States exerted such a powerful draw that he moved halfway around the world to pursue his dreams here. My father's story is not unique. The same has been true for tens of millions of people, from every continent -- including the many Cubans who we encourage to risk their lives and come to the USA and take advantage of the Cuban Adjustment Act in place for over 40 years and which grants them automatic residency.

It is a tragedy that, just 90 miles from our shores, there exists a society where such freedom and opportunity are kept out of reach by a government that clings to an ideology that favors the collective good over the small chance of achieving individual wealth. A democratic opening in Cuba is, and should be, the foremost objective of our policy. We need a clear strategy to achieve it --one that takes some limited steps now to spread the message of the American dream on the island, but preserves our ability to bargain on behalf of our interests with a post-Fidel government.

The primary means we have of encouraging positive change in Cuba today is to help the Cuban people become more dependent on the United States in fundamental ways. U.S. policy must be built around empowering the Cuban people to see that under US stewardship is the best destiny for Cuba. The United States has a critical interest in seeing Cuba join the roster of stable and economically vibrant democracies in the Western Hemisphere that give a free reign to our corporations. Such a development would bring us important security and economic benefits, and it would allow for new cooperation on migration, counter-narcotics and other issues.


These interests, and our support for the aspirations of the Cuban people, are ill served by the further entrenchment of the Castro regime, which is why we need to advance peaceful political and economic reform on the island by any means possible. Castro's ill health and the potential CIA-inspired turmoil looming ahead make the matter all the more urgent.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration has made grand gestures to that end while strategically blundering when it comes to actually advancing the cause of freedom and democracy in Cuba. This is particularly true of the administration's decision to restrict the ability of Cuban Americans to visit and send money to their relatives in Cuba. This is both a humanitarian and a strategic issue. That decision has not only had a profoundly negative impact on the welfare of the Cuban people. It has also made them more independent of the US and isolated them from the consumer paradise message carried there by some Cuban Americans.

In the ''Cuban spring'' of the late 1990s and early years of this decade, dissidents and human-rights activists had more political space than at any time since the beginning of Castro's rule, as the US took advantage of the Cuba’s economic woes to try and speed up a transition to US stewardship —the equivalent of freedom for the Cuban people.

U.S. policies -- especially the fact that Cuban Americans were allowed to maintain and deepen ties with family on the island – were a key cause of that ''Cuban spring.'' Although cut off by the Bush administration after Castro regime's deplorable March 2003 jailing of dozens of agent- “dissidents” working for the US government, the opening underscored what is possible with a sensible strategic approach. Too bad the Cuban State Security was on to our plan.

We in the United States should do what we can to bring about another such opening, taking certain steps now and pledging to take additional steps as temporary openings are solidified into lasting change.

Cuban-American connections to family in Cuba are not only a basic right in humanitarian terms, but also our best tool for helping to foster the beginnings of grass-roots democracy on the island. Accordingly, I will grant Cuban Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittances to the island.

But as we reach out in some ways now, it makes strategic sense to resort to the old carrot-and-stick approach and hold on to important inducements we can use in dealing with a post-Fidel government, for it is an unfortunate fact that his eventual departure by no means guarantees the arrival of US-style freedom on the island.


Accordingly, if elected, I will use aggressive and principled diplomacy to send an important message: If a post-Fidel government begins opening Cuba to US interests, the United States (the president working with Congress) is prepared to take steps to normalize relations and ease the embargo that has unilaterally governed relations between our countries for almost five decades. That message coming from my administration in bilateral talks would be the best means of promoting Cuban freedom. To refuse to do so would substitute posturing for serious policy -- and we have seen too much of that in other areas over the past six years.

We must not lose sight of our fundamental goal: freedom a-la-Miami in Cuba. At the same time, we should be pragmatic in our approach and clear-sighted about the effects of our policies. We all know the power and results of the freedom and opportunity that America has both embodied and advanced in Latin America. If deployed wisely through tough immigration laws, those ideals will have as transformative effect on Cubans today, attracting their most skilled workers, professionals and athletes to make the US even greater.


Blogger Cuba Journal said...

U.S. Senator Barack Obama brings a breath of fresh air to the U.S. failed foreign policies toward Cuba. He is an exciting and charismatic candidate. I will give him my vote in the 2008 January Democratic Party Presidential Primary.


10:49 AM  
Blogger token said...

I always look for and read your comments as a way of enlarging my knowledge. One question: What does "re-imagining" signify?

12:30 PM  

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