Anya Landau French
Director, US-Cuba Policy Initiative – New America Foundation and editor,
Posted: September 3, 2010 10:47 AM
Obama Renews Cuba Embargo for Another Year
Well, I can't say it was any big surprise. Yesterday, President Obama
renewed his authority under the otherwise defunct Trading with the Enemy
Act (TWEA) of 1917, which would have otherwise expired on September 14,
2010. In plain English, President Obama renewed the U.S. embargo on Cuba
for another year.
Bear with me as I wonk out for just a moment, and recall how I explained
this obscure presidential declaration last year:
Keep in mind that everything the President – any US President –
does must have its foundation in some law giving the office broad or
specific authority to act. Back when President Kennedy first declared
the embargo, he had broad authority to declare national emergencies and
leave them there – often far past their use and beyond the reach of
So, in 1977, Congressional scaled back that authority for future
national emergencies; but it grandfathered in existing authorities (such
as the one for the Cuba embargo) as long as the President determined, on
a yearly basis, that continued exercise of that authority was still in
the national interest. President George W. Bush last signed this
determination on September 12, 2008. (Note that Cuba is the only country
against which sanctions derived from the 1917 Trading with the Enemy Act
are still in place.)
And so for close to 3 decades now, the embargo remains in place
because of a yearly presidential determination that it ought to.
Last year, Amnesty International, one of the Cuban government's
staunchest human rights critics, but also one of the U.S. embargo's
staunchest opponents, issued a clever call for President Obama to
decline to renew his TWEA authority. Had he heeded the call, it wouldn't
have simply wiped away the embargo, much of which now codified into law
(but it would have called into question the legal standing of some of
the most important and sweeping parts of it, like the travel ban).
President Obama also could have made a bold foreign policy statement, by
making a clean break with the United States' single most ridiculous and
demonstrably failed foreign policy, and possibly even shaking up the
annual U.N. vote in which every country except Israel and a small island
in the South Pacific, votes to condemn it. But Amnesty's call went
unheeded, the U.N. voted 187- 3, and President Obama, who six years ago
unequivocally opposed the Cuba embargo, officially came to own it.
Nevertheless, Amnesty International sent another letter to Mr. Obama
last month, reasoning this time that not renewing his authority would
"surely be welcomed by many US citizens keen to travel to and engage
with Cuba. It would also send a clear message to Congress, that after 50
years of tension, new avenues should develop in the relationship with Cuba."
It's true that by signing that piece of paper yesterday, President Obama
again missed a chance to send a positive, constructive signal on Cuba
policy. But it's not too late. Maybe he's got another signal in mind,
one that would make a tangible change right now, by again allowing the
kinds of people-to-people cultural travel to and contacts with the Cuban
people that President Clinton encouraged more than a decade ago (and
which President Bush closed down in 2003).
By using the limited authority he has to ease the current travel
restrictions, President Obama would assuredly encourage Congress to take
the final step – as only Congress can do – and end the counterproductive
travel ban for all, not just for some, Americans.
This post originally appeared at http://TheHavanaNote.com