Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Change In Cuba Policy Long Over Due

President Obama's busy schedule will take him to Trinidad later this month for a summit with Latin American leaders. The top item of discussion:

Suspending travel and remittance requirements to Cuba as a first step in ending the 50-year-old trade embargo against the Communist-ruled island.

I say the time has come. And so does a vast majority of Cuban Americans.

It has never made sense to me that the U.S. engages in trade with China, a communist nation, and not Cuba under the rule of the Castro brothers. Certainly, the political equation is different. But, the old guard Cubans who fled the Castro regime no longer hold the upper hand in controlling this crucial policy issue.

On the other hand, it is unknown how cooperative Raul Castro will be in terms of opening new dialogue with the U.S.. especially after allowing Russia to use the island as a naval base just 90 miles off Florida's Key West.

While Obama flew to Europe for the G-20 summit, lawmakers, business and trade representatives held a press conference in Washington announcing bipartisan legislation ending the travel embargo. The travel embargo, said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., is a "failed policy that has failed for 50 years."

The Dorgan bill — co-sponsored by Richard Lugar of Indiana, top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee; Mike Enzi of Wyoming, ranking Republican on the Health Committee; and Banking Committee chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. — would prevent the president from stopping travel to Cuba except in cases of war, imminent danger to public health or threats to the physical safety of U.S. travelers. Reps. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., have an identical bill in the House with 120 co-sponsors.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the son of Cuban immigrants, slowed confirmation of several administration officials and passage of a major spending bill because that bill contained the changes in rules on Cuban-American travel.

Cuban-born Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., said he would continue to oppose the legislation. "This is the time to support pro-democracy activists in Cuba, not provide the Castro regime with a resource windfall."

The list of groups supporting the bill, including the American Farm Bureau, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and associations representing rice, wheat and dairy industries, was indicative of the broader goals of opening up Cuba.

One of the most comprehensive reports in normalizing relations with Cuba was written by Jake Colvin, a fellow with the New Ideas Fund, a progressive organization that seeks new approaches for U.S. national security and foreign policy.

The report, published just after Obama won the presidential election, was highly critical of the Bush ideological approach to the Cuban policy on travel and trade embargo.

It spells out the steps Obama and Congress to pursue. It's recommended reading that brings clarity and understanding to our relationships with other nations in the world.

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