The Obama Administration’s Choices On Cuba

DOBBS FERRY, N.Y. – The following is a statement by John McAuliff, executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, a non-governmental organization he founded in 1985 to normalize relations with Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. He has visited Cuba annually during the past decade.

As Cuba celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of its revolution on January 1, the incoming Obama Administration faces several choices about whether and how it will address decades of mutual hostility and misunderstanding:

1) Will it honor Obama’s campaign pledges and the Democratic Party plank calling for immediate “unlimited travel and remittances” for Cuban Americans — or, as reported from a transition team source, backslide to the Clinton Administration policy of annual visits and a fixed albeit higher-than-Bush level of remittances?

2) Will it exercise its authority to grant general licenses to eleven other categories of non-tourist travel including education, humanitarian, religious, cultural, sports and “support for the Cuban people” — or wait for leadership from a divided Congress?

3) Will it listen to editorials from every leading US newspaper and to the 68% of Americans, including Cuban Americans, who want to end all restrictions on travel — or accede to hard line exiles in Miami whose PAC money has been spread widely among Democrats in Congress and whose new champion is Senator Bob Menendez?

4) Will it follow Bill Clinton’s successful path (without human rights or democracy preconditions) to quickly end the embargo of Vietnam and move to normalize relations — or his delayed and ineffective gradualism on Cuba?

5) Will it accept for humanitarian reasons Raul Castro’s offer of gestures to release prisoners each country feels are politically motivated victims of the other — or follow the Bush Administration line of preferring Cuban dissidents remain incarcerated if they are not released on US terms?

6) Will it heed the virtually unanimous call from Western Hemisphere nations, European allies and the membership of the United Nations to lift our embargo — or maintain the distrusted unilateralism of the Bush Administration?

Had Presidents Nixon, Carter and Clinton been bound by the self-interested politics of Chinese, Vietnamese and Cambodian exile leaders, we would still have embargoes and no diplomatic relations with countries that are now vital US partners.

President Obama has the opportunity in the opening days of his tenure not only to reverse the harsh and illusionary policies of the Bush Administration, but also to begin to undo decades of failure that have benefited neither the Cuban nor American people and isolated us internationally.

Without action by Congress, Obama cannot restore the Constitutional right to travel to all Americans or lift the embargo, but he should not fail to open the door to a wide range of significant two way non-tourist exchanges that will create mutual understanding and trust, essential for both countries to repair relations.

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