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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Cuba and the 2008 election

Is Barack Obama more progressive on Cuba than Hillary Clinton? Since the Democrats didn't campaign in Florida, this question has not appeared on the public radar.

Last summer, however, Obama wrote an op-ed for the Miami Herald calling for the US to ease up on some aspects of the economic embargo toward Cuba:
The primary means we have of encouraging positive change in Cuba today is to help the Cuban people become less dependent on the Castro regime in fundamental ways. U.S. policy must be built around empowering the Cuban people, who ultimately hold the destiny of Cuba in their hands...

Cuban-American connections to family in Cuba are not only a basic right in humanitarian terms, but also our best tool for helping to foster the beginnings of grass-roots democracy on the island. Accordingly, I will grant Cuban Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittances to the island.
Essentially, these policies would roll back some tightening of the economic embargo implemented by the current George W. Bush presidential administration. Bill Clinton allowed freer travel and remittances as well.

Obama has also voted twice to cut off funding for TV Marti.

After Obama's op-ed, however, Hillary Clinton's campaign attacked it. Time reported August 23:
In response to Obama's statement, Hillary Clinton continued her recent attacks on his perceived foreign policy naivete, insisting that "until it is clear what type of policies might come with a new [Cuban] government, we cannot talk about changes in the U.S. policies toward Cuba."
She has also voted to maintain TV Marti and says the economic embargo should not be lifted "until democracy took root there," as The New York Times described her position on October 18, 2000.

How's this for a succinct summary? From The Washington Post, January 1, 2007:
Clinton "is going with the status quo," said Sergio Bendixen, a Miami-based pollster who specializes in Hispanic voters. Obama, he said, "is with the position of change."
In the February 11, 2008, issue of Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria argues that the daylight between and Obama and Hillary Clinton is manufactured -- by Clinton, out of caution and calculation. She has been trying to win votes in Florida and New Jersey, rather than arguing for clearly needed policy change. Zakaria does not approve of her political posturing:
she is terrified to act on her beliefs. In fact, she seems so conditioned by what she sees as political constraints that one can barely tell where her beliefs begin and where those constraints end.
I realize that political candidates frequently reverse their campaign positions when elected to public office. However, as Zakaria points out -- and I've previously noted -- American hard-line policy toward Cuba has been a complete failure for decades.

Note: I have a longstanding interest in US policy toward Cuba. In 1983, my college debate colleague, Mark Gidley, and I did well arguing for an end to the Cuban economic embargo, a ban on then-radio Marti, closing of the U.S. military base on Guantanamo Bay and a flat statement that US intervention into Cuba's internal affairs should be prohibited.

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