12/02/13 - PEOPLES WORLD - Where is U.S. Cuba policy going?
by Emile Schepers
Speaking to an event organized by the anti-Castro Cuban-American Foundation
in Miami on Nov. 9, President Obama got the attention of both supporters
and opponents of U.S. Cuba policy by saying:
"[W]e've started to see changes in [Cuba]. Now, I think that we all
understand that, ultimately, freedom in Cuba will come because of the
extraordinary activists and the incredible courage of folks like we see
here today. But the United States can help. And we have to be creative. And
we have to be thoughtful. And we have to continue to update our policies.
Keep in mind that when Castro came to power, I was just born. So the notion
that the same policies that we put in place in 1961 would somehow still be
as effective as they are today in the age of the Internet and Google and
world travel doesn't make sense."
On Nov. 18, Secretary of State Kerry made similarly intriguing but vague
statements at a meeting of the Organization of American States.
Both sets of comments should be interpreted with caution. The group to
which Obama spoke included extremely intransigent anti-Castro elements.
Both Obama and Vice President Biden have been meeting over the last month
with several key anti-Castro dissidents. So it is not surprising that the
anti-Castro Cuban-Americans are extolling his statement as vindicating
their position demanding tightened sanctions against Cuba, while those who
want a change in Cuba policy see the Obama administration as warning the
anti-Castro forces that the U.S. may be about to move in a more
conciliatory direction which they are not going to like, but will have to
accept. We shall soon see.
Meanwhile, the negative U.S. policies toward Cuba keep causing problems. On
November 26, the Cuban government announced that for the time being, its
diplomats in the United States will suspend consular activities except for
emergency and humanitarian cases. This is because the bank that Cuba was
using, M&T Bank in Baltimore, had warned them on July 12 that it was going
to cancel their accounts. The Cubans have not been able to find a U.S. or
international bank that will open new accounts for them. Most observers
agree that this is happening because banks fear that if they do business
with the Cuban government, they run the risk of prosecution and huge fines
imposed by the United States Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control
(OFAC), as has happened on a huge scale before.
No bank wants to undertake such a risk. This will cost Cuba lots of
tourism money and be very unpleasant for Cuban-Americans and others who
want to go and visit their relatives in Cuba, because they will not be able
to get their visas from the Cuban Interests Section in Washington D.C. They
will certainly raise a political stink about this, aimed at the U.S.
government and not the Cuban one. The current policy authorizing extensive
visits by Cuban Americans to the island was introduced by Obama at the
beginning of his term, and was justified by the administration as a means
for changing things in Cuba by allowing more people-to-people contact.
That policy is now threatening to unravel because of harsh anti-Cuba
measures which remain in force, especially the continued listing, against
all objective information and common sense, of Cuba as a "state sponsor of
The Obama administration says it is working with Cuba to find another bank
to handle their diplomatic transactions, but no results are reported yet.
Stopping diplomatic missions from having access to routine banking services
is a violation of the Vienna Convention on consular relations.
Over the years, the original attempt to overthrow Cuba's revolution and its
socialist government, by strangling the Cuban economy and thus creating a
popular uprising, has failed. But so far, this has only led U.S. policy
makers to heap more stupidities on top of the original arrogant mistake:
The Torricelli Act in 1992, the Helms-Burton Act in 1996, the placement of
Cuba on the state sponsors of terrorism list in 1982: each hostile step has
encouraged a fanatically anti-Cuba faction within the Cuban exile
community, within the Republican Party and even within the Democratic
Party. These people fight tenaciously to prevent the U.S. government from
even taking baby steps toward a more intelligent policy. OFAC does its bit
by blindly implementing failed policies "efficiently," leading to a
substantial tightening of the U.S. economic blockade over the past several
Some of the legal structure of the U.S. blockade against Cuba can't be
changed at the initiative of the president, but require repeal by Congress.
But the president still can, by executive action, take Cuba off the list of
state sponsors of terrorism. This, and dealing with the issue of the Cuban
5, would be important first steps. To get them to happen, public pressure
is essential. Photo: The Obama administration has encouraged
people-to-people exchanges with Cuba. In this photo, long distance swimmer
Diana Nyad readies for her successful swim from Cuba to Florida on Aug.
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