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September 16, 2009
Obama sticks to the script in renewing Cuba embargo

Even with the embargo, the United States is Cuba’s fifth largest trading partner — there are exemptions on food sales to the island. Photo: USDA

There’s no reason to be surprised by President Obama’s decision this week to renew the U.S. embargo with Cuba — he was sticking the script followed by presidents since John F. Kennedy.

Not doing so would throw a wrench into his efforts in Congress on universal health care. Without even arguing pro or con on the issue, let’s just state the obvious — the president is dealing with pressing matters that take front-burner attention right now. Cuba and Latin America are way down on the list of problems to deal with.

All this despite the emptiness and loneliness of the embargo. Many Americans don’t realize the oddities of the U.S. stance — it can’t be called a policy. Something like 178 other countries have normal diplomatic relations with Cuba. Even with the embargo, the United States is Cuba’s fifth largest trading partner — there are exemptions on food sales to the island.

A majority of Cuban Americans now support an end to the embargo. Some of the most vociferous supporters of a change are midwestern Republicans, who want to open new markets for their constituents. And it should be made clear: Those suffering the most are the Cuban people, not the Cuban government.

President Obama’s decision therefore may be disappointing to the coalition of Americans who think it’s time to acknowledge the failure of the 50-year economic embargo of Cuba. But they won’t scream as hard as the other side would if the president endorsed a new policy. Obama can’t stand potential defections of support for the health care bill.

Cubans in Cuba and Miami tend to see their own issue as the only issue. But even they know the reality.

The Cuban government has expressed doubt for some time that Obama would strike up a new, close friendship with the Communist country. Ricardo Alarcon, the president of Cuba’s National assembly, told me in Havana this year that he hoped, but didn’t think the new president would live up to his billing as an agent of change.

Watch: Cuba embraces Obama and clamors to end the embargo.

Any idea of quick change comes from an early flurry of talk that Obama might be willing to drop a travel ban to Cuba affecting most U.S. citizens. There was a lot of noise in the spring when Obama suggested changes in U.S. Cuban policy. But he’s taken minor steps other than to eliminate restrictions imposed by George W. Bush on Cuban Americans traveling and sending more to relatives on the island.

Actually, there were two small changes that are worth mentioning. One is that the United States and Cuba have begun holding regular occasional meetings on immigration and other matters. So there is some level of official contact between the countries. There was also an odd contact point recently when Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico paid a visit to Havana and said he held unofficial meetings with high-ranking Cuban officials. It’s not clear whether he was carrying water for the president or not, and it’s also not clear who he really met with, besides Alarcon.

The real point person on Cuba and Latin America should be Arturo Valenzuela, who President Obama has designated as the deputy assistant secretary of state for Inter-American Affairs. He’s not on the job yet — Congress is stalling on confirmation hearings.

Latin America, as usual, is an afterthought in U.S. foreign policy planning.

– Peter Eisner

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Comments

3 comments

#3

Dear Ruben,
I believe we are all to fast at judging. Judging from what I read I believe you have a blindfold over your eyes: Cuba doesnt pay? Have you seen any country that is debt free? They only take dollars? When was the last time you were there? Has it crossed your mind that perhaps the reason why those products are in the stores “for tourists” because there is an embargo? Cubans are not allowed to go to the beaches? And … are you litterate at all? The US embargo is THE US embargo! Of course other countries trade with Cuba! But there is a restriction on exporting US products, read a bit more before you comment!! The US is NOT the most generous in the world!! Nor are the USA’s tourists!!
I see you using words that seem too big for you to fully understand> barbaric? truth? If you live in a country like the US -which is the impression I get based on your regurgitation of very well learned propaganda- you cannot make such a demand!! You have been fed with whatever stories you should in order to make the system work, we all are, but in your case I really hope God will have mearcy on your soul, because ignorance in this case is a sin, and guess what? your USA artificial God will not save you, even after you follow all the things it tells you you, even after you blindly believe it and attack those who dont and therefore according to you don’t report “the truth”. You yourself are so intolerant, it writes brain-washed all over your comment. Have a good day.

#2

Mr. Peter Eisner, you call yourself as a journalist, but you are very far away from being a true one. The mention in your article that there are about 178 countries doing business with the dictatorial regime of the Castro brothers, shows that there is no EMBARGO. In the stores for tourist there are all the products, that you can find in any store of the US, but the Cuban people are not allowed to go into this stores, the same as they are not allowed to go to the beaches and famous 4 and 5 star restaurant located there,and in Habana the capital, this is called APARTHEID,remember? ,because they accept only US dollars, and the cubans don`t have that currency. Be honest( I doubt it) and tell the world, the TRUE .There is no embargo that causes harm in any way to the citizen. But it does harm to the barbaric ,dictatorial regime that abuses and oppress the people, because it does not allows the Cuban government to receive LOANS and the US tourist,which is the most generous in the world.The Cuban government owes, practically to every country who have lend money to them, they do not repay,and they use the money to create and support every left government ,in Central and South America to attack the US, in any way possible. I really will like to see a report from you about the cuban jails, cells of 3 ft by 3 ft where the inmates, have to do their biological necessities and eat the scarce food they receive,sleep standing, their crime is be against the regime and peacefully make demonstrations like the Ladies in White, I can give you more than 100 names, and not to mention the thousand that have died in front of the firing squads.I really feels pity for you; your existence and work in journalism,notice I am not calling you a journalist,because your are very far from being even a real one ,and a man.The true journalist even if he does not share the same philosophy, should report the true, but you are not even close. God have mercy on your soul(if you have one, I really doubt it)

#1

Que lastima

Peter Eisner is an editorial consultant with Worldfocus and a 30-year veteran of international news. He has been an editor and foreign correspondent at The Washington Post, Newsday and The Associated Press. He co-authored “The Italian Letter,” which details fraudulent intelligence leading up to the Iraq War. He was founder and president of Newscom, an international online news service, and speaks Spanish and Portuguese.

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