Prior to entering office, President Barack Obama spoke of the need for a new approach to U.S.-Cuba relations and a sea change from the past.
As reported by The New York Times, in a speech May 2008, Obama said:
John McCain’s been going around the country talking about how much I want to meet with Raúl Castro, as if I’m looking for a social gathering or I’m going to invite him over and have some tea. That’s not what I said, and John McCain knows it. After eight years of the disastrous policies of George Bush, it is time to pursue direct diplomacy, with friend and foe alike, without preconditions.
Last April, the Obama administration lifted some restrictions on Cuban-Americans, including regulations on travel and on sending money back to Cuba.
However, the nearly fifty-year-old embargo on Cuban trade and travel with the United States remains intact. Moreover, President Obama renewed the embargo for another year this past fall.
The relationship between Cuba and the United States has received little attention lately.
Let’s look at what bloggers are saying about life in Cuba and the state of U.S.-Cuba relations today.
U.S. Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart’s (R-FL) is staunchly opposed to the Communist government in Cuba and an advocate for Cuban-Americans. Susannah Vila of Global Voices discusses Diaz-Balart’s decision to not run for reelection:
As is the case with many of the Obama administration’s accomplishments during its first year, advancements in relations between the US and Cuba have been subtle. Yet small changes in policy may mean bigger shifts in behavior, especially when it comes to Cuban-Americans and the voting booth.
Bloggers in Miami and Cuba are buzzing over the news that US Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart will not run for reelection in the fall. Diaz-Balart, a Republican, is a staunch supporter of the trade embargo against Cuba, and he took this as an opportunity to highlight his role in codifying the blockade. As a senior member of the House Rules Committee, the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Legislative and Budget Process, and the Co-Chairman of the Florida Congressional Delegation, Diaz-Balart’s absence will definitely be felt.
Melissa Lockhart of Foreign Policy Blogs writes how 2010 could be the year that change is realized, even after a slow down in the political will to open relations with Cuba:
The Congressional push to open up Cuba for travel by U.S. citizens was buried at the end of last year in the urgency (at the time) of the health care reform debate. The bill’s sponsors—including Representatives Bill Delahunt (Democrat) and Jeff Flake (Republican)—intend to dig it out and press forward, starting now. The problem at the moment is the Democrats’ reluctance to actually bring the bill to the floor for a vote. The votes may be there (across party lines), but the issue isn’t at the top of their agenda and is one that splits the caucus.
Unfortunately, the momentum that came from Obama’s lifting of travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans last year is now slowed, and the issue has faded from the ever-shifting public attention. Meanwhile, there is bipartisan opposition to the bill as well, and funds channel to members of both parties from opposition, pro-embargo (often Cuban-American) groups. So bipartisanship is not necessarily a relevant asset at all for the backers of this bill.
I know how it feels. I know how hard it is to go to the Cuban consulate in any country and be asked to sign your name in support of freedom for the Interior Ministry’s five agents – prisoners in the United States – while they do not even ask you if there’s anything they can do to help you. I have listened to a young man cry at an embassy in Europe while a bureaucrat repeats that he cannot return to his own country because he exceeded the eleven months he is allowed to be away. I have also witnessed it from the other side, the denial received by many here who apply for the White Card needed to board a plane and leave this Island. The travel restrictions have become routine and some have come to believe it should be this way, because to know other places is a perk that they give us, a prerogative that they award us.
Read Sanchez’ interview with President Obama.
The new president was surprised by several labor leaders who led an entourage to his ailing brother. These ideas were conceived to disrupt the roots of the Castros’ base, and strip them of absolute power. This was an opportunity for the state to fulfill its role of channeling and ensuring the full and total development that the individual needs. Nothing changed. Raúl Castro made two or three stuttering interventions that plunged the nation into the expectation of CHANGE — the possibility of increasing diplomatic relations with the United States; ignoring reality he declared that the world financial crisis would not reach the islanders or their currency exchanges — all designed to buy time.
For more on Cuba, visit our Worldfocus extended coverage page: Cuba after Fidel.