03/04/13 - Baltimore Sun - Time is ripe for a new approach to Cuba
Unfortunately, our nation faces enormous challenges in virtually every
region of the globe.
In countries ranging from Iran to North Korea to Syria to Mali, and on
issues spanning terrorism, drug trafficking, global warming and cyber
warfare, each day will bring seemingly impossible problems for our nation's
foreign policy leaders, especially new Secretary of State John Kerry.
There is one international issue, however, on which genuine progress is not
only possible but is likely - if the secretary of state and President
Barack Obama are prepared to make this issue a foreign policy priority.
Only 90 miles from America's shores is the small nation of Cuba, which
today poses no military or economic threat to the United States but is a
continuing reminder of more than 50 years of failure by Democratic and
Republican administrations to achieve our stated objective of fostering
Our current Cuba policy is an irritant in our relations with many friends
in this hemisphere who believe the policy of attempted isolation of Cuba
has been counterproductive. Our State Department has essentially been
informed that there will never be another summit of hemispheric leaders if
Cuba is not included.
Secretary Kerry will remember the central role he played in the
normalization of relations with Vietnam by President Bill Clinton in
the 1990s, and how normalizing relations with a communist erstwhile foe can
be a win-win. Most will agree that the politics of Vietnam were even more
complex, particularly with the emotionally lingering POW and MIA issue,
than U.S.-Cuba politics.
I am advocating a series of engagements with Cuba on issues of mutual
concern. Both countries are concerned about drug trafficking, environmental
issues (including hurricane tracking), migration, and development of
potentially lucrative oil and gas reserves in the Florida Straits.
Recently, I heard Cuba's senior representative in Washington, Ambassador
Jose Cabanas, speak with considerable logic about how his country could
cooperate with the United States on energy production, which is now being
joint-ventured by Cuba with companies from many other countries, while our
energy companies are prohibited from participating. He noted that an oil
spill, for example, off the coast of Cuba would affect not only Cuba but
almost immediately South Florida as well.
The United States has had informal contacts with Cubans on these and other
mutual concerns. I am proposing that the Obama administration, with the
secretary of state taking the lead, move quickly to formalize arrangements
that will serve the unquestioned interests of both countries. Cuban
officials have indicated they are willing to do so, and we should test this
assertion without preconditions. Although I do not propose seeking
immediate normalization of relations with Cuba, that could well be the
ultimate result of the phased steps I am advocating.
The political landscape on the Cuba question is shifting. About half of the
Cuban-American vote in Florida in 2012 went for President Obama. An
encouraging report emerged in recent days that the State Department is
considering removing Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Many of the issues our nation must confront seem almost beyond solution.
In our own front yard is one issue - opening the door to better relations
with Cuba - that could achieve the same kind of success that President
Clinton and then-Senator Kerry achieved in Vietnam less than two decades
Let us seize this low-hanging diplomatic opportunity with Cuba.
Michael D. Barnes represented Maryland in the House of Representatives
as a Democrat from 1979 to 1987, serving as chairman of the House
Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs. He is a senior fellow at the
Center for International Policy in Washington. His email is
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