April 20, 2009 in Opinion

Our View: Obama cracks open door to Cuba; now it should swing wide


About this column

Outside Voices is a weekly roundup of excerpts from recent editorials published in newspapers around the nation. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board of The Spokesman-Review.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 15: U.S. immigration officers no longer blink when they see “China” stamped on a U.S. passport. Or “Russia.” Or “Vietnam.” Americans are free to travel to places once a long way from the United States, and not just in miles.

But Cuba, just a brief airline hop or a fast speedboat ride from Miami, might as well be on the moon. For 50 years, Fidel Castro’s “worker’s paradise” has been kept distant and politically hostile not only by Castro, but by Cuban exiles in South Florida who can’t forgive what he did to their homeland.

But that Cold War attitude finally may be undergoing a long-overdue thaw.

Fulfilling a campaign promise, President Barack Obama last Monday removed Bush administration restrictions that limited Cuban-Americans to one family visit to Cuba every three years and capped how much money they could send to relatives there. …

Obama correctly concluded that Cuban-Americans, with one foot in each nation, are the best ambassadors to stoke freedoms denied to the Cuban people.

Miami Herald, April 14: Considering the hoopla that preceded it, President Barack Obama’s decision to relax the rules governing travel and cash transfers to Cuba might seem to some like a daring new policy initiative – but it isn’t. Obama is making a marginal change in U.S. policy to signal that he is open to fundamental revision, but only if the Cuban government reciprocates – and that has always been the real stumbling block.

Obama’s action is a commendable step, to be sure, but it needs to be put in perspective. In removing travel and gift restrictions for Cuban-Americans, the president is reverting to rules that prevailed before a change imposed by President Bill Clinton. That came after the Cuban air force, in a cowardly act, shot down two unarmed Brothers to the Rescue planes in 1996, killing four innocent men. President George W. Bush tightened the restrictions after Fidel Castro cracked down on dissidents in 2003, sending scores into prisons where most still remain.

This history and the strong feelings that surround Cuban policy ensure that any change in policy, no matter how slight, carries political and policy risks for any U.S. president. Obama has made a calculated decision that the move will be largely welcomed by Cuban-Americans who want to see the U.S. government get out of the business of regulating how often they see their families.

This fulfills an Obama campaign pledge, and it may give Cubans living under the yoke of the Castro brothers more freedom to act independently, but it hardly amounts to a significant change as far as most Americans are concerned. They are still banned from visiting Cuba, and the trade embargo is still in place.

Detroit Free Press, April 16: In what those on both sides of the Florida Straits acknowledged as the most significant change in Cuban-American relations since the Kennedy administration, the White House this week relaxed restrictions on Cuban exiles’ ability to visit and send money to family members on the island. Under a new executive order, Cuban Americans will be able to visit as often as they like and send as much money as they want to any Cuban who is not a senior government or Communist Party official … .

In an age when the United States enjoys robust commerce with China, Syria and Iran, among others, the Cuban trade embargo is a glaring anachronism. So is the travel ban that forbids Americans not born in Cuba from traveling to the island. The House and Senate are considering legislation that would end travel restrictions for all U.S. citizens, a welcome sign that Congress, too, is warming to a more grown-up strategy of engagement.

The impulse to isolate Cuba has always betrayed a curious and unwarranted lack of confidence in the power of example. There is every reason to believe that increasing Cuba’s exposure to American products, American currency and Americans themselves would strengthen the island’s democratic impulse, and no reason to fear that normalization would confer legitimacy on a regime that has been enjoying all the legitimacy it needs for five decades.

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