The Limits of Obama’s Trip to Cuba
125 FEB 23, 2016 8:00 AM EST
By Editorial Board
With all due respect to Mick and Keith, a Rolling Stones concert is no
longer a life-changing experience. Nor is a visit from a U.S. president,
necessarily. Change in Cuba — where these two events are scheduled for
successive days next month — depends most of all on the Cuban government.
President Barack Obama’s trip to Cuba on March 21 is not, as its critics
contend, a vote of confidence in President Raul Castro’s government. It
is simply an opportunity for Obama to acknowledge both the successes of
his policy and its limits.
More than a year after the normalization of ties began between the U.S.
and Cuba, there are tangible signs of progress. Commercial flights and
ferry service from the U.S. will soon resume, bringing even more
American travelers to Cuba. U.S. cellular companies now provide service
on the island, and Internet access has improved. The first U.S. factory
on Cuban soil in more than half a century will soon open. And serious
talks have begun on issues such as investor protections, telecom
regulations and environmental protection.
Like the hundreds of millions more dollars in U.S. remittances now
lifting the fortunes of ordinary Cubans and fueling small businesses,
these developments can have a powerful cumulative effect. For one thing,
they raise popular expectations and put the onus for change squarely on
Cuba’s government. Moreover, even with the embargo intact, a visit from
a hugely popular American president may help to convince the Cuban
people that the U.S. is no enemy.
So you can expect an eloquent speech or two. But soaring rhetoric about
free expression is meaningless without support for those who depend on
it to criticize the Castro regime, which has increased its persecution
of them. Obama can also help his credibility by recognizing that, for
most Cubans, daily life is much as it was. The government retains
overwhelming control of the economy.
Bringing about positive change in Cuba won’t be quick or easy. And a lot
of what counts as change in Cuba is something that came to the rest of
the world a long time ago (see: Stones, Rolling). But recent
developments in Latin America — Chavismo’s crackup in Venezuela, the
election of a new president in Argentina, and the cease-fire in Colombia
— make change in Cuba more likely. So, too, will Obama’s trip.
To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s
editorials: David Shipley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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