LAUNCH EFFECT

U.S. Wrong to Try to Please Cuba with Policy Changes

Once again, the Obama administration, like those of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, seeks to please the Cuban government. They don't understand Cuba always sees this as a sign of weakness.

By Guillermo I. Martinez.

Writing about Cuba entails many perils.

We have limited access to firsthand sources and often depend on what U.S. State Department officials tell us publicly or “on background.” We also have the official Cuban government response and those of some dissidents inside the island.

Finally we can talk to pundits, each with his or her own bias. They will interpret history for us according to their personal political beliefs. No one owns the truth.

Having said that, let me add that I do not like the latest Obama administration policy changes. They make it easier for some Americans to travel to the island and may make it easier for Americans to send up to $2,000 a year — no more than $500 a quarter — to help foster private economic activity on the island. It also allows direct charter travel from any airport in the United States.

The policy is designed, according to one of those anonymous sources, “to support the independence of the Cuban people, making them less dependent on the Cuban state and the Cuban authorities.” That indeed is a lofty goal.

It will permit more academic exchanges between American universities and their counterparts on the island. No senior communist official may be the recipient of those remittances.

The administration’s announcement came on a Friday afternoon before a long weekend and was embargoed until 5 p.m. Republicans were holding a congressional retreat in Maryland. The release was designed to get minimum coverage.

Cuba’s reaction was prompt and expected. It said that President Barack Obama’s decision was positive but did not go far enough. They want the embargo lifted period. Only Congress can do that, and it won’t.

Once again, the Obama administration, like those of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, seeks to please the Cuban government. They don’t understand Cuba always sees this as a sign of weakness.

Carter’s reward for befriending Cuba was the Mariel boatlift. Clinton got hit twice. In 1994, Fidel Castro allowed 34,000 Cubans to leave the island in rafts. And in 1996, Castro ordered Cuban MiG jet fighters to shoot down two small planes in international waters, killing four people. Castro got the information from a Cuban spy who had infiltrated the exile organization.

What can we expect now? It is difficult to predict. Softening U.S. policy toward Cuba has seldom helped the Cuban people. It always has a way of backfiring on U.S. administrations perceived to be weak.

Guillermo is a veteran newsman with experience in print and broadcast journalism in South Florida and throughout Latin America. He won the Inter American Press Association’s Daily Gleaner Award for editorial commentary on Latin America.