Is Obama’s Cuba policy set in stone?
October 14, 2016
Normalizing relations with countries like Cuba and Iran has been near
the top of President Obama’s agenda since he took office in 2008. Now,
he’s looking to make current relations irreversible after his term is up.
On Friday, the White House announced a new round of changes in US-Cuba
relations. The changes – which loosen existing restrictions – will allow
for a number of new interactions, including the export of some US
consumer goods sold online, US companies providing safety services for
Cuban commercial airlines, and US and Cuban medical researchers working
For Mr. Obama, the changes are an effort to ring-fence his normalization
policy before he leaves office. Though the policy has not been met with
universal support, even critics, who say the US government is ignoring
human rights violations by Cuba, believe the changes Obama has made are
“At this point we’re not going to see a reversal [of normalization] –
even the harshest critics of the president’s Cuba policy realize that
train has left the station,” Ana Quintana, Western Hemisphere policy
analyst at the Heritage Foundation, told The Christian Science Monitor
Officials in the Obama administration say political openness is here to
stay as a result of the important ties it has created between the two
countries’ governments, citizens, and companies. The restrictions
loosened Friday are the sixth, and probably the last, round of changes
to be made by this White House.
“We’ve increased the space for this type of travel, people to people
exchange, commercial opportunities in ways that are already having a
positive impact on the lives of Americans and Cubans,” a senior US
official told Reuters. “Turning back the clock on that policy would only
take away those opportunities.”
Another reason the change may not be reversed: its low priority to the
next administration. Cuba is not the national security concern it was
during the cold war. The president’s efforts to reincorporate Iran into
the international system will likely be the target of greater attention,
given concerns over the country’s nuclear program.
Both Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic
nominee Hillary Clinton have suggested that they would alter the
relationship, however. Mr. Trump announced at a mid-September rally in
Miami that he would reverse the normalization of relations unless the
Cuban government complied with demands from religious and political
freedom to the freeing of all political prisoners. The Republican
candidate had previously said he supported normalized relations but
thought the deal favored Cuba. Secretary Clinton has said she supports
normalization, but would like to see the US press the Cuban government
on human rights.
Obama says maintaining relations will allow the United States to impact
human rights in Cuba.
“Challenges remain – and very real differences between our governments
persist on issues of democracy and human rights – but I believe that
engagement is the best way to address those differences and make
progress on behalf of our interests and values,” he said in a statement
Congress controls many of the remaining restrictions on US-Cuba
relations. The legislature shows no sign of lifting the trade embargo,
which has been in place for more than five decades. That hesitancy was
reinforced when Cuba denied visas to members of Congress who wanted to
inspect Cuban airport security before commercial flights resumed in August.
Material from the Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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