Announcing COHA’s Forthcoming Series of U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Relations

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In the initial months of the Obama presidency, there has been huge movement in U.S.-Cuba relations. The young administration has taken steps to dilute the strength of the 50-year old embargo against Cuba through several initiatives. President Obama recently lifted restrictions preventing Cuban-Americans from traveling to the island by issuing an executive memorandum to the Secretaries of State, Treasury and Commerce. Family members of Cuban nationals now have the liberty of visiting their relatives. In a supplementary measure, the administration also loosened the stipulations governing the flow of remittances from Cuban-Americans to island relatives. Cubans can now receive cash from their relatives living in the U.S., a much welcome measure for a nation in which the majority of the population lives barely above the destitute poverty line.

Obama’s Opening to Cuba Somewhat Impoverished
Nevertheless, these conciliatory gestures emanating from Washington have failed to bring about the change many Americans and their Latin American counterparts have vociferously called for over the last decade in mounting numbers. COHA has long maintained the position that the U.S. embargo on Cuba is an outdated policy that is now also being similarly denounced by ranking republican members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, namely Senator Richard Lugar (R-I), as well as scores of other legislators, businessmen, agricultural conglomerates and legions of public notables. This sterile policy has entirely failed in its efforts to bring freedom and democracy to the island. Rather, U.S. policy has served to perpetuate poverty and hinder modernization. At the same time, the profoundly altered geopolitical landscape that today characterizes Cuba is already proving to be much different than that of previous decades.

COHA repeatedly has argued that Cuba is no longer a proselytizing state attempting or even desiring to broadcast its Revolution across Latin America, nor is it infiltrating its battalions into the African wars of liberation or providing facilities for enemy military bases as was the case during the Soviet era. In fact, with the Cold War being long over, rendering the embargo entirely obsolete, Washington’s policy is scarcely less than an ancient relic in a new era of globalization and multipolarism.

Converting a Lackluster Policy into a Catalyst for Change in U.S.-Latin American Relations
In the face of this reality, COHA agrees with the growing number of critics coming from a wide variety of policy circles and advocacy groups who believe that the Obama Administration has failed to seize a vital opportunity to alter the direction of U.S. Cuba policy in a dramatic and defining way. This organization finds it wholly unacceptable that only certain categories of Americans – Cuban-Americans, in this instance – are granted the right to travel unencumbered to the island. Not only is this policy short-sighted, but it violates the democratic principles of liberty and equality for all, while it holds up unacceptable and irrational distinctions limiting the rights to travel to Cuba only to a select minority of Americans. For an administration that has vowed to change the way in which this country engages with the rest of the world, President Obama has been distressingly timid in his response, and the limp manner in which he is implementing his new Cuba policy is far less venturesome than his Iranian or North Korean policies. This response is not sufficient and will fail to yield any meaningful breakthrough in Washington’s frozen relationship with Havana. Rather than meet the challenge of normalizing relations with a bold new move, Obama’s strategy is essentially offering more of the same, which demonstrably has proven wanting.

Most recently, two separate pieces of legislation, the “Freedom to Travel to Cuba” bill and the “U.S.-Cuba Normalization Act” have been introduced in both chambers of Congress. These progressive initiatives call upon the Obama administration to exhibit greater deliberation on the matter by extending the newly allocated rights to all Americans allowing them to participate in the normalization of relations with Cuba, which would include the freedom to travel. Havana, if ever, is no longer a security threat to this nation, and thus, any rapprochement between the two countries should be moving ahead with greater velocity. The Alliance for Global Justice has recently published a list of the sponsors and co-sponsors of these bills and has called upon Americans to urge their representatives to generate more evidence on this pertinent issue.

In conjunction with the Supreme Court proceeding relating to the Cuban Five, COHA will be launching a series of initiatives on Cuba during the approaching summer aimed at bringing greater awareness to our readership on the many factors affecting U.S.-Cuba relations. Throughout the next several months, the organization will publish various essays and compilations on a number of different facets of this bilateral relationship between Havana and Washington. COHA’s goal, through the ongoing dissemination of information, is to persuade the Obama Administration to take bolder measures to normalize relations with Havana.

Ultimately, Washington’s ties to Cuba provide a valuable opportunity for the U.S. to launch a policy that voids previous strategies rooted in preeminence and exceptionalism, and in turn, allows for the rehabilitation of the U.S.’s approach to the entire Latin American Region. Presidents Lula of Brazil, Chávez of Venezuela, and Morales of Bolivia have incessantly articulated that any real change in U.S. policy must begin with a rapprochement between Cuba and the United States. Celso Amorim, the Brazilian Foreign Minister, vehemently castigated U.S. Cuba policy when he publicly stated that maintaining the U.S. embargo in place in order to generate leverage on Havana is an ineligible argument that carries no intellectual credibility. Moreover, lifting the embargo would help to improve the quality of life for Cubans by opening the country to trade and foreign investment; this would also facilitate bilateral trade opportunities with the U.S., an invaluable market for any exporting nation. If President Obama is truly committed to improving hemispheric relations, he must first understand that all roads pass through Havana. Altering this stubborn and petulant policy, whose dysfunctions have governed U.S.-Cuba relations for the past 50 years, is the most visible manifestation of constructive change the Obama Administration can project to the rest of the region.