Obama & the Cuban Embargo

(Editor's Note: With a meeting between members of Congress and Fidel Castro to discuss the U.S. economic embargo, among other topics, this posting takes on added significance.)

by Dan Aspan
Special to iVoryTowerz

Less than four months into his presidency, President Barack Obama is planning to loosen restrictions on family travel and remittances to Cuba. Obama plans to announce this action before the April 17 meeting of Latin American and Caribbean leaders at the next Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. Although Obama’s plan would not lift the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, it would be a huge step for U.S.-Cuba relations, and it could serve to ease the tension with a neighbor which has been known for its adversarial relationship with the United States. The embargo can only be lifted with Congressional approval, but Congress is considering legislation that could provide unlimited travel for Americans to Cuba. Additionally, leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said recently that he wants to use the April 17 meetings to “reset” his relationship with the United States. Despite some recent criticism of Obama, Chavez has indicated a desire to improve U.S.-Venezuela relations. (These days, Chavez is often the measuring stick for U.S. policy toward leftist governments in Latin America. His rhetoric is another way to measure the potential for warming relations between the U.S. and Cuba.)

This move by Obama is something United States foreign policy hasn’t utilized in quite some time: good judgment. Considering the upcoming meetings in Trinidad and Tobago, Obama’s plan is setting the tone for productive discussion among leaders in the region. Even Chavez, a man who is infamous for calling former U.S. President George W. Bush “the devil” at the United Nations in 2006, is indicating a move toward some positive strides in diplomacy. Chavez and Cuban President Raul Castro are close allies, and Obama’s move is also showing Chavez’ friends that the United States may be interested in diplomacy, something which wasn’t an option in the past. Obama’s plan also has the potential to provide a better relationship between the U.S.-backed Colombian government and its relationship with Chavez and other leftist leaders like Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa.

Although Obama’s plan, at this point, has not proven to yield any earth-shattering results, the implications it has for U.S. relations with Latin America are huge. It appears that the Obama administration has wasted no time in doing something that Bush struggled to do over the course of eight years: offer an olive branch to countries notorious for disliking the United States. At this point, all the world can do is watch for the news that comes out of the meetings on April 17. People will now monitor the progress of the U.S. Congress and its legislation regarding Cuba and other nations taking an adversarial stance toward the U.S. Turning adversaries into allies could be one of Obama’s biggest successes as president if he continues to put foreign policies grudges in the past and continues to promote diplomacy.

*Dan Aspan is the producer of Latinocast, a weekly podcast about Latin America.

For more background on Cuba, please also see:

(The photo shows a portion of the popular Cuban three peso note and is in the public domain. To see Senators discussing legislative changes in the Cuban embargo, please check below.)

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