[Marxism] Obama's minimalist campaign toward Cuba

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Apr 15 07:06:25 MDT 2009

No We Can't?
by Stan Katz

The reaction to yesterday’s White House announcement of changes in our 
Cuba policy has been predictably mixed, and it easy to see why. 
President Obama has fulfilled his minimalist campaign promise to improve 
Cuban American access to Cuba, but he has not gone much further. The 
Obama administration claims to be “reaching out to the Cuban people,” 
but the new policy is essentially a restoration of Clinton-era Office of 
Foreign Assets and Control (OFAC) regulations permitting unlimited 
travel by family members to Cuba and removing the current restrictions 
on transfers of cash from Cuban-Americans to their families on the 
island. This is a sensible and welcome restoration of the status quo 
ante 2000.

The rationale is that “Cuban American connections to family in Cuba are 
not only a basic right in humanitarian terms, but our best tool for 
helping to foster the beginnings of grassroots democracy on the island. 
The logic of the “grassroots democracy” proposition escapes me. The 
White House also promises to authorize U.S. telecommunication network 
providers to negotiate with the Cubans to improve fiber-optic and 
satellite links between the two countries, and to provide roaming 
service agreements for cellphones with Cuban providers. These policies 
might improve communications with and within the island — if the Cubans 
want Americans to become their dominant international telecommunications 
provider, a doubtful proposition.

The problem for those of us who have been advocating a sweeping change 
in U.S. policies toward Cuba is that we think such improvements in the 
situation of Cuban Americans is only one among a host of desirable 
changes. Many of us (myself for sure) hope for the repeal of the embargo 
legislation, or at least the total revocation of OFAC regulations 
limiting travel to Cuba. I am sure that there are many domestic 
political factors that deter the President from taking bigger steps at 
this time (one of them is spelled “M-e-n-e-n-d-e-z”), but Obama carried 
Florida (not to mention New Jersey), and we looked for something bolder, 
especially as the President sets off for his first regional meeting with 
our Caribbean neighbors. Yesterday’s announcement is not what they are 
looking for, either, I would guess. Indeed, given what is happening in 
Central and Latin America these days, and given our disastrous neglect 
of the region under Bush II, this seems an opportunity missed.

I have been working with Cubans and Cuban organizations since 1997, with 
increasing difficulty and decreasing scope of opportunity, as the 
policies of both countries narrowed the options for cultural, academic 
and intellectual exchange. I am an unreconstructed admirer of the late 
Senator William J. Fulbright’s belief that bi-national cultural exchange 
is one of the most promising routes to international peace and 
understanding. There are still useful things we can do in Cuba. Faculty 
and graduate students can travel to do research, and undergraduates can 
enroll in Cuban universities (so long as they enroll for at least 10 
weeks). My colleagues and I have organized a Woodrow Wilson School 
undergraduate policy task force at the University of Havana for next 
spring, for instance. But we could all do much more, and in so doing we 
would be both reversing 50 years of a failed policy and making a new 
beginning in the always troubled relationship between ourselves and the 
Cuban people. Can’t we do better, Mr. Obama?
Stan Katz teaches public and international affairs and directs the 
Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies at the Princeton 
University's Woodrow Wilson School. He is a past president of the 
American Council of Learned Societies, the Organization of American 
Historians, and the Society for Legal History. He comments frequently on 
policy issues relating to higher education, particularly liberal 
education, and on the humanities and social sciences, philanthropy, 
scholarly relations with Cuba, and the interplay of civil society, 
constitutionalism, and democracy. And on his beloved Cubs.

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