01/03/13 - Sentinel - New year brings new faces to lead on U.S.Cuba policy Sun
To those who follow U.S.-Cuban relations closely, 2013 may be a box full
of surprises. Who knows what is inside?
Cuban officials are probably delighted with the nomination of Sen. John
Kerry, D.-Mass., to be Secretary of State.
Not since Jimmy Carter was president has Cuba had a friendlier
politician in a position to help modify the long-standing, isolationist
U.S. policy toward the Castro brothers' regime.
The opposite holds true as Sen. Bob Menéndez, D.-N.J., a staunch opponent
of rapprochement toward the Communist regime, is likely to be elected
chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a post vacated by
Kerry as he accepts his Cabinet post.
Call Kerry and Menéndez the Ying and Yang of U.S. Cuba policy. Kerry will
argue for lifting the U.S. embargo of the island, allowing all Americans
to travel to the island and eliminating support for the pro-democracy
movement in the island. Menéndez, born in New York to Cuban-American
parents, will counter Kerry's every move as he is an advocate of a strong
American policy on Cuba and Iran.
Who will win? President Barack Obama will decide. It will be his
policy, not that of his secretary of state or of the chairman of the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Each will plead his case. The
president will dictate which road to take.
In his first four years in office, President Obama has eased U.S. policy
toward Cuba, but only by a few degrees. He eliminated many restrictions
imposed by former President George W. Bush on visits to the island by
Cuban-Americans who want to see relatives. And he has made it easier for
Cuban-Americans to send them remittances , easing the frequency and amount
of money they can send.
At the same time, President Obama has made it easier for cultural
exchanges between Americans and Cubans. It is easier now than under the
Bush Administration to get a license to visit Cuba.
Still, President Obama has held the line on further improvements,
conditioning them on Cuba's release of U.S. contractor Alan Gross, jailed
for taking satellite communications equipment to Cuba's small Jewish
community. Furthermore, he has said repeatedly that the United States will
not normalize its relations with Cuba until the island's government
releases all its political prisoners, holds free elections and allows
freedom of speech.
Undoubtedly, Cuban foreign relations officials will work to strengthen
ties to Sen. Kerry. They know full-well that he supported a 2009 bill that
would have allowed unrestricted travel for all Americans to the island.
They remember that only two years ago, he put a hold on $20 million
destined to help pro-democracy programs in the island. And some still
remember that when former President Carter went to Cuba, the only U.S.
senator invited along was Sen. Kerry.
On one side, the question is whether Kerry will try and push his ideas on
the Obama Administration. The other is whether Menéndez will allow these
changes to occur or whether he will be the immovable object in the Senate.
The important part of this discussion is that it has little to do with
partisan politics. All three of the key participants in this debate are
Democrats. They will discuss and enact a new Cuba policy or they will
keep the current policy in place.
Sen. Kerry's hand is weakened by Cuba's insistence on a prisoner-exchange
program. It wants the United States to free and send back to Cuba five
convicted spies - four still serving lengthy sentences, the fifth out on
parole - in exchange for Gross.
As long as Cuba insists on Gross for the five spies' exchange, it will be
difficult for Kerry to convince President Obama to change course. If Cuba,
on the other hand, decides to moderate its foreign policy as it has been
doing with its internal economic rules, all options may be on the table.
The new year has many surprises in store, and a new U.S.-Cuba policy may
be one of them. One hopes that for the sake of all the dissidents and
freedom-loving Cubans in the island, U.S. policy continues to defend their
Guillermo I. Martínez on Twitter at @g_martinez123, or email him at
1. John Kerry
2. Jimmy Carter
3. U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
4. Barack Obama
5. George Bush
6. Democratic Party
Original Source / Fuente Original:
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