TOPICS: New Cuba policy in sight?

Patricia Grogg

If elected, Democratic candidate Barack Obama could become the first United States president

to engage in talks with Cuba after almost five decades of severed relations, but it will all depend on his refraining from trying to “control” a process that involves two sides, say academics. Even before his official nomination, the US presidential hopeful had talked of the possibility of pursuing “direct diplomacy” with Havana “without preconditions,” and had promised to put an end to the restrictions imposed by Washington in 2004 on the freedom of Cuban-American families to travel and send remittances to their relatives in Cuba.

“Obama was very clever in setting out his alternative policy, as he brought up two issues that are key to the Cuban-American community (economic and travel sanctions) and declared his willingness to sit down and talk with officials in Havana,” Esteban Morales, a Cuban academic and researcher, said. In Morales’s opinion, the proposal marks a step forward, as it “takes the situation to a fresh starting point by eliminating unpopular restrictions set by the George W. Bush administration and raising the possibility of opening official talks.” However, on this last point, Obama has made a mistake that “puts Cuba on its guard,” according to Morales.

Speaking in Miami, Florida before the Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF), Obama said during the primary campaign in May that “there will be careful preparation” for such negotiations, and that these would be based on “a clear agenda.” “As president, I would be willing to lead that diplomacy at a time and place of my choosing, but only when we have an opportunity to advance the interests of the United States, and to advance the cause of freedom for the Cuban people,” he added.

Morales finds this approach “rather arrogant.” “He went as far as to say that the groups that represent Cuban emigrés should be included in these talks, and the way he expressed himself was as if he should be the one to determine when the talks would take place, what issues would be on the agenda and who would participate,” he said.In an op ed column published Oct. 12 in the Cuban press, Castro warned that “the United States is marked by profound racism, and millions of whites cannot reconcile their minds with the idea that a black man with his wife and children would move into the White House, which is called just that: White.”

In this sense, “it is by pure miracle that the Democratic candidate has not suffered the same fate as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and others who in recent decades dreamt of equality and justice,” Castro said, referring to the assassination of these civil rights activists in the 1960s. In a previous commentary, Fidel Castro had criticised the Democratic candidate’s foreign policy platform for Cuba, claiming it could be translated into a formula for condemning

the country to hunger, with remittances as handouts and visits as propaganda for consumerism and the unsustainable way of life it is based on.