US-Cuba Relations Emerges as Presidential Issue

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At the first Democratic presidential primary debates, Bill Richardson was asked about what he’d do with regards to Cuba, and he proceeded to spend much of his time answering not that question but rather an earlier question about how each of the potential presidents would react in case of another terrorist act.
Like the other candidates, Richardson said he’d quickly go after the bad guys. Retribution, Strength. All that. In the end, Richardson stated quickly that he’d promote an incremental engagement strategy with Cuba.
But the issue of US-Cuba relations has now moved from being a low tier novelty issue in the campaign to a major issue through a series of statements recently released by candidates.
The first of these was a major comment on US-Cuba relations released by Senator Chris Dodd on The Washington Note.
The second is a full op-ed by Barack Obama that appeared in Tuesday’s Miami Herald-Tribune in addition to the news that Obama will be appearing in Little Havana in Miami this coming Saturday.
Senator Hillary Clinton then said that she differed from Obama and would continue the Bush administration’s hard-line, Cold War-era fashioned policy towards the Castro regime and the Cuban people. In a remarkable statement, Hillary Clinton essentially stated that she would continue to support the ridiculously tight travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans who now can only travel to Cuba once every three years. In other words, Clinton supports a policy in which people have to choose between attending their mother’s funeral, or their father’s.
Obama sees travel, particularly of family members as a human right. Clinton sees withholding such a privilege as a right of state.
To be fair, Hillary Clinton didn’t always see it this way. She has flip-flopped, as she voted with Obama in 2005 (and others) to unsuccessfully east travel restrictions in humanitarian-related family travel.
Tom Bevan reports that Hillary Clinton spokesman Mo Elleithee stated:

She [Senator Clinton] supports the embargo and our current policy toward Cuba, and until it is clear what type of political winds may come with a new government — if there is a new government — we cannot talk about changes to U.S. policy.

This is simply not mature-minded foreign policy thinking. I’ve written previously that one of the measures that should be applied to all of the candidates is how they would deal with not the easy questions in our national security portfolio — but the tough ones.
Cuba is the easiest of the tough ones to solve. First of all, the Cold War is over. Cubans don’t see a Soviet-led bloc as their primary patron anymore, but see Venezuela and China, which has grown through capitalism, as their closest economic allies today. Castro is no longer exporting arms and revolution — but rather is exporting doctors.
And Hillary Clinton is stating that she is comfortable continuing a many-decades long, failed strategy to transform Cuba. And she thinks we “cannot talk about changes to U.S. policy” until the government changes?! That’s ridiculous — particularly given her own trips to China, a Communist nation of 1.1 billion people — and her advocacy of normalization with Vietnam and her support of incremental steps forward with North Korea.
Obama has still not made the statement that easing the travel ban is American interests — or making sure that American firms and NGOs are involved in the practical side of oil drilling in Cuba which has a reported 9 billion barrels of oil that the Chinese are eager to get to — if not for economic reasons, then surely for environmental.
Obama has not made that statement that Republican Congressman Jeff Flake has made that restricting travel is not something a democracy does, but rather what the Soviet or Chinese communist governments did. And legislation that permits travel in family cases, in my view, is essentially unconstitutional because it discriminates against other Americans.
Chris Dodd’s view are very clearly the mid-to-long-term future that we should be shooting for in the US-Cuba relationship.
Barack Obama has moved the Cuba issue into the headlines — and found another issue to solidly differentiate himself from Hillary Clinton — but his views while an important and large step represent the near future in US-Cuba relations.
Hillary Clinton, who for fundraising reasons and because of her gamble that the anti-Castro types in Miami are less diverse in their views than polls convey they are, is staying rooted in the “past” in US-Cuba relations.
Clinton is wrong on Cuba. The consequences of not initiating now the kind of relationship America should have with Cuba in post-Fidel circumstances are enormous — not only in the US-Cuba arena but in the broader context of Latin America.
Opening the door to more US-Cuba interactions would seriously stifle Hugo Chavez’s ambitions and maneuvering room in Latin America. Hillary Clinton is smart enough to know this — and she may lose more votes than she gains by pandering to a cabal that has kept US-Cuba ties frozen in a 1960s cocoon.
— Steve Clemons
Editor’s Note: The Havana Note is now up and running. Here is a bit of info on the new blog, and I have cross-posted the above there to get things moving. SCC

Comments

27 comments on “US-Cuba Relations Emerges as Presidential Issue

  1. Javier Rodriguez says:

    Dear Editor
    I will add the following. For years Cuba has been exporting White Guerrillas to dozens of nations in the planet. These medical personnel composed of doctors, nurses, technicians, mobile hospitals and medicines travel to host countries in Latin America, Central America, Mexico, Africa and other continents and submerge themselves into the the most needy urban dwellings and provinces and provide free, totally free medical aid to millions of desperate low income people. Additionally Cuba also provides educational humanitarian aid to these countries and in some of them, like Venezuela and with their innovative instructional methods in education, thousands of teachers have assisted in erasing illiteracy from these countries. Now if I’m not mistaken 45 million americans and many more millions of insured human beings getting ripped off by the HMOs, (remember Moore’s SICKO) in the United States would instantly accept this same humanitarian aid if given the opportunity to choose, including myself. Today, there are now over 30,000 foreign students in Cuba studying to be medical doctors under Cuba’s universal free education to the highest levels.
    Cuba exports primarily humanitarian aid and a different set of human principles, the US exports wars, weapons of mass destruction, an arrogant and brutal mentality of control, crimes against humanity, pillaging and the Halliburtons.
    Respectfully
    Javier Rodriguez Los angeles
    Javier

    Reply

  2. katie says:

    love this site its so good

    Reply

  3. arthurdecco says:

    MP said: “But look, “selling” is getting a bad name here. It is the president’s job to sell…to sell himself to the electorate and those who form public opinion…to sell his ideas to the public…to sell his ideas to allies and adversaries…to sell his ideas to his cabinet. FDR was a GREAT salesman. Kennedy too. Reagan (unfortunately) too.”
    I admit I vowed never to darken the door of another moronic MP post again…but…my gawd!.!.! Enough is enough!
    (Tho you can’t forget the fact that I’m an abusive, craven, screechy, slick attention seeker and he’s this squishy, dumb ass, deluded disseminator saddled with weak language comprehension skills and an oversized and undeserved ego. LOL)
    Now to my reply to MP, (after that personal commercial):
    Selling? …SELLING ?!?
    If I could BOLD it and increase the Font size by a million, I couldn’t begin to convey my contempt for your opinion, MP.
    For your information:
    Statesmen, (and Women), don’t SELL!
    Statesmen, (and Women), COMMUNICATE and ENGAGE.
    THEY FIRE THE IMAGINATION!
    And still, they lead their fellow citizens responsibly – with informed and ethical determination. Like Al Gore would do if he had the courage.
    Selling, on the other hand, is what shopkeepers and plaid-outfitted car salesmen, (and women), do to increase their personal share of the pie.
    According to your opinion, America and her presidents should be reduced to donning the plaid and reciting the mantras guaranteed to produce the highest yields for its best-connected citizens. In other words, just like now.
    We all know that lately American Presidents seem to be caterwauling willingly – selling delusion as truth, moral depravity as a plus, craven greed as natural and concern for the less unfortunate as stupid to the vast majority who don’t have the energy, education or honesty to think beyond chillin’, complainin’ and screwin’.
    What a pathetic outcome for the grand experiment we once envied as the penultimate “democratic” United States of America.
    Talk about having a monkey on your back for those Americans who think.
    You have my sympathy.

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  4. PissedOffAmerican says:

    You’re watching it every day.
    Posted by MP
    Geez, can you get anymore full of shit than this guy?
    Tell us what policies he has “implemented. What legislation he has had passed.
    What exactly qualifies him to be President? (Other than the head he gives to AIPAC and Israel.)

    Reply

  5. MP says:

    Kathleen writes: “MP.. I too wish the candidates would make preserving and protecting our Constitution a primary focus of their campaigns because I think we are in grave legal peril. But if they did, it would be very difficult to explain why they oppose impeachment. Dodd who has made protecting our Constitution a featured position, is running dead last, behind “none of the above”. What does that tell us?
    ME: They can do it by addressing those issues and promising to restore what’s been taken as soon as he’s in office. He doesn’t have to push for impeachment in order to do that. They’re probably a lot of reasons why Dodd is last, not just this one. Can’t frame a memorable message? I don’t know. You’re the political maven, though, and are probably in a better position to analyze this one than I.
    Carroll… we may not be fooled by the Madison Avenue glitz, but well informed citizens are distinctly in the minority. And with the MSM being in bed with Madison Avenue, let’s just say they know which side of their bread is buttered. Everyone in the MSM owes their incomne to advertising. Besides, now that it is clear that everything MSM gobbled up from this regime was false, they ignore those candidates who got it right because they are living proof that the MSM were asleep on the job, if not downright complicit.
    ME: And always have been and always will be. But look, “selling” is getting a bad name here. It is the president’s job to sell…to sell himself to the electorate and those who form public opinion…to sell his ideas to the public…to sell his ideas to allies and adversaries…to sell his ideas to his cabinet. FDR was a GREAT salesman. Kennedy too. Reagan (unfortunately) too.

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  6. MP says:

    Posted by PissedOffAmerican at August 24, 2007 08:17 PM
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    You’re watching it every day.

    Reply

  7. MP says:

    Posted by Carroll at August 24, 2007 06:10 PM
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    It’s not really a question of fooling anyone. But I’m not sure I have the skill right now to explain this clearly. All the politicians are dealing and having to broker competing interests–groups, if you will–and not just ethnic groups. They disagree on a lot of things, and it is impossible to please them all–or even to get them all to sign on to the politician’s ideal agenda. So he finds ways to give each of them enough–and yes, screw each of them enough–that they all more or less support him and most of his agenda and he can move forward.
    Sometimes it’s a win-win, as when FDR gave the south the TVA so they’d support his “socialist” agenda.
    In this game, plain-spoken honesty, or putting all of one’s cards on the table, is not a virtue except in doses and at the right moments. You know, most of the world knows and accepts this and calls it “subtly.” Here in America, we call it “dishonesty” but still fall for it–especially those, such as yourself, who think they can’t be fooled. For example, if you sit out an election, you are being fooled.

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  8. Kathleen says:

    MP.. I too wish the candidates would make preserving and protecting our Constitution a primary focus of their campaigns because I think we are in grave legal peril. But if they did, it would be very difficult to explain why they oppose impeachment. Dodd who has made protecting our Constitution a featured position, is running dead last, behind “none of the above”. What does that tell us?
    Carroll… we may not be fooled by the Madison Avenue glitz, but well informed citizens are distinctly in the minority. And with the MSM being in bed with Madison Avenue, let’s just say they know which side of their bread is buttered. Everyone in the MSM owes their incomne to advertising. Besides, now that it is clear that everything MSM gobbled up from this regime was false, they ignore those candidates who got it right because they are living proof that the MSM were asleep on the job, if not downright complicit.
    Kucinich has integrity, but that virtue is apparently passe. I don’t delude myself about his prospects to prevail over the CW of the DLC and MSM, but I feel it’s important for Demz to support Kucinich to force the party away from their Bush Lite center-straddling, non-creative stagnation.
    Revenge of the Nerds… it’s long overdue. I’d so love to see an underdog prevail. Geezus that would be so sweet. David and Goliath… it could happen, so we have to give it our best shot.

    Reply

  9. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “But it takes skill. It’s the kind of skill that Kucinich doesn’t have, IMO, but Obama and Clinton do, at least to some degree.”
    Ok, I’ll bite, MP. Give us a specific example of Obama’s use of this “skill” you allude to, but have yet to define.
    Frankly, I think you’re full of shit.

    Reply

  10. Carroll says:

    But it takes skill. It’s the kind of skill that Kucinich doesn’t have, IMO, but Obama and Clinton do, at least to some degree.
    Posted by MP at August 24, 2007 11:09 AM
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    You are looking the “skill” thing from the wrong angle.
    Obama, Clinton, et al, are transparent to me and all others who are well informed…they have no skill in covering or concealing themselves or their contridictions or motives with people like us. If they were truely skilled as you say we would be fooled wouldn’t we?
    The “skill” is not “skill” but simpy adding up the numbers and aiming at the uninformed part of the public.

    Reply

  11. MP says:

    Posted by Kathleen at August 24, 2007 04:47 PM
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    You make good points. There are no good, principled reasons against impeachment proceedings. They’ve certainly earned it.
    I DO think, though, that the candidates have made a plunder in not campaigning on Constitutional and other justice issues –pledging to restore Habeas Corpus and our whole system of justice. Even Kucinich hasn’t really made it a cornerstone of his campaign–though folks assume it’s in there.
    I did look at the ABC poll. Okay, but “Voting Republican” and “Voting for Gore” came out above Gravel and Richardson. Not what I’d call a good predictor of Dem primary voting.
    But Kathleen, I bow to your superior political acumen. Truly.

    Reply

  12. Kathleen says:

    MP: For sure one needs countervaling forces to bring about a huge change like impeachment during a war. But why take it off the table, so definitely? What’s up with that? If fear works for our Fearful leader, why don’t Demz use it?
    Demz do not have a “working” majority so they are never going to get anything past Dopey’s little veto pen, except more dutiful rubber stamping.
    When Repugs started their impeachmnet against Bill Clinton, they didn’t insist on having all the votes BEFORE they got going. That’s the point of having hearings.
    Perhaps Dems know the minute they start impeachment proceedings, Dopey and Darth will push the 9/11 button again and blow up some other liberal bastion.
    Chris Dodd recently warned against impeachment efforts. Warning about what? What does he think is going to happen? Are we all going to go poof?
    How do Demz expect average citizens to come through this with any trust left in the justice system? We have to obey the law, but they can pick and choose which laws they feel like obeying?
    Does Executive Privelege work for witnesses called to testify at impeachment hearings? I think if Congress really wants Condi and Harriet and the Roverator to testify, they might have to have hearings where Executive privilege is not operative and refusing to testify is obstruction of justice and spend some time in Judith Miller’s old cell.
    I could go for that.

    Reply

  13. RedShell says:

    I wonder if Clinton is going to call Obama’s Cuba stance ‘naive’ as well. How often can she use the ‘I sit at the grownup table’ line to avoid discussing issues that we really need to be thinking about as Americans?

    Reply

  14. MP says:

    Posted by Carroll at August 23, 2007 11:04 PM
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    You know, I understand your point and frustration on this issue. And it IS a problem. But the fact is, American politics, maybe ALL politics anywhere, has been about appealing/pandering/handing out goodies to various groups. One of the early big time goodies was writing slavery into the Constitution.
    This is not going to change without facism.
    Having said that, there is definitely a time for bucking the groups. But, to do that, you have to have countervailing forces, countervailing groups, on your side.
    Or you have to sort of jui-jitsu the argument–Republicans are great at this, BTW–to break through the established terms of the debate and reframe them in your own way. When you own the terms of the debate, you’ve pretty much won the debate.
    Or you can counch it in terms of a “larger” point that renders the original argument moot…or even seem petty by comparison.
    But it takes skill. It’s the kind of skill that Kucinich doesn’t have, IMO, but Obama and Clinton do, at least to some degree.

    Reply

  15. Kathleen says:

    POA… I’m with you on Obama’s position that Dopey and Darth don’t meet the standards for impeachable offenses. How low do the Demz want to set the bar for standards of official conduct… subterranean???? Geeeeezus.

    Reply

  16. JP says:

    It’s not about freedom or Castro or the right foreign policy, it’s about the general election. As everyone knows, there is a bloc of Cuban-American voters in south Florida (Batista-era exiles and their descendants) that has always supported the harshest policies toward Cuba. They vote and their votes can swing statewide elections.
    Historically, members of this bloc have been strong Republicans. However, in this election cycle, when the Republican nominee is likely to win the nomination based, in part, on how racist he can be on the issue of immigration some of those voters might switch sides. Although the subtle and not so subtle racism of the immigration debate generally targets Mexicans and Central American natives, it is likely that some Cubans are offended by the rhetoric, too. By endorsing the hardline stance against Cuba, a democrat can hope to draw some of those voters away and lock up an electoral-vote rich state.
    It’s just politics. It’s also immoral, but it’s just politics.

    Reply

  17. Miriam says:

    Hi, Joe:
    You are right, it is about leadership. Leaders also have to pick their battles.
    BTW. I am not justifying Hillary, only trying to understand where she is might be coming from on this issue.
    ps/ Which of your “books”?:)

    Reply

  18. Carroll says:

    http://www.canf.org/
    Reading the Cuban exile lobby site is one way to try and figure out the angles of the politicans on Cuba policy.
    Nothing about Cuban policy being said now is for the benefit of American voters, it’s all being played to the Cuban exile group in Miami.
    They have a lengthly article about the dems and especially the freshmen dems voting against opening up Cuba travel.
    A seperate article sums up all my growing disgust with all these quasi-American “lobbies”:
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    “In a ruling that strengthens the American embargo on Cuba, a federal judge has firmly rejected a lawsuit challenging a ban on American participation in short-term study programs on the communist-run Caribbean island.
    One of the groups that pushed for the stricter rules said it was heartened by the judge’s ruling
    “There was a lot going on under the guise of academic or cultural exchange that was actually tourism. There were groups that would go for two weeks on a salsa dancing tour of the island,” a spokeswoman for the Cuban American National Foundation, Camila Ruiz-Gallardo, said.
    *We support restrictions on travel by Americans to Cuba until there’s some significant change in how the regime treats its own people and it starts respecting the human rights and civil liberties of its own citizens.”*
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Totally oblivious of course, and more than that, not giving a damn that they are infringing on “Americans civil liberties” by restricting our freedom to travel where we please.

    Reply

  19. Joe Klein's conscience says:

    Miriam:
    She doesn’t have to. It would show leadership if she did. Very rarely do most Senators show leadership on anything. It would be nice if she showed leadership on something. It would go a long way in my book.

    Reply

  20. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Again, I just can’t bring myself to give a shit about what any of these posturing frauds say about Cuba. Until these God damned cowards start talking about accountability, constitutional law, and indictments, then I can only assume they plan on holding themselves above the law just like these fascist bastards in the Bush Administration are doing.
    Fuck Obama. The one sentence he mouthed about Bush’s abuses not meeting the standard for impeachment disqualified him for ANY public office.
    The local honey wagon outfit is looking for a driver. Obama, if he hurries, might be able to land the job.

    Reply

  21. Miriam says:

    Thanks a lot, MP and Kathleen, excellent point!
    You are right. I forgot the Elian Gonzalez fiasco.
    If Fidel dies before the election, the dynamic will change anyway. Why should she promise anything now?
    Miriam

    Reply

  22. Kathleen says:

    And then we had the whole Elian Gonzales/Janet Reno debacle…. I’m sure Hillary doesn’t want to open that can of worms before she has to.

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  23. MP says:

    Miriam writes: “What does she have to gain by announcing now that she will normalize relations? If she is elected, she might in the future. She is very smart; so she is leaving her options open for now.” Good point, Miriam. No doubt that is what she’s doing.

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  24. Erica says:

    Cuba and the United States has had tense relations, but I believe it is more on the reasons that the United States is paranoid of endless possibilities. A nation in power will always be afraid of the littler countries that pose even the mildest threat.

    Reply

  25. Miriam says:

    Hi, Steve:
    Thanks for keeping up with this issue.
    As you know, I am from Cuba and I agree with you.
    It is time for reconciliation.
    I am not surprised, however. There is no love for Castro by the Clintons. People forget.
    In 1980, Cuban refugees left in boats from the port of Mariel; Castro opened the Cuban prisons and let them all leave for Miami. First term Governor Bill Clinton, as a favor to then President Carter, placed thousands of “Marielitos”, in Arkansas Ft. Chaffee. In June, there was a major prison riot, Clinton had to call the National Guard. Castro cost Bill Clinton his first re-election.
    When Clinton became President, he had no incentive to normalize relations. Hillary still doesn’t. Cuba remains a marginal issue for most Americans. Only Cuban Americans care; it remains a very emotional and painful issue for most families. The pro-embargo people are very well organized and funded, the others less so.
    Most Americans don’t realize the class, ethnic and racial tensions within the Hispanic community.
    Since the Revolution, Cuban-Americans had a special, privileged status as political refugees; we automatically received green cards on arrival and had a right to apply for citizenship within 6 years. Cuban Americans have been very successful and have become powerful. Hispanics from other countries often see us as arrogant, and are resentful and jealous.
    What does she have to gain by announcing now that she will normalize relations? If she is elected, she might in the future. She is very smart; so she is leaving her options open for now.
    Talk to you soon,
    Miriam
    ps/ I could not post this in the Havana Note.

    Reply

  26. wag says:

    Hillary Clinton seems to think the US has the right to dictate what form of government other sovereign nations have. Very interesting.

    Reply

  27. Walter Lippmann says:

    The best contribution we can make toward freedom in Cuba is to practice it ourselves. Let’s start by permitting Cubans in the United States the freedom to travel to Cuba to see their families. Then let’s let everyone in the United States travel freely to Cuba.
    We can go to China, we can go to Vietnam, and they’re one-party Communist countries, aren’t they? Beyond that, why not allow U.S. businesses to buy and sell to Cuba, just like they do with China and Vietnam? In addition, let’s allow Cubans on the island to freely come and visit their family and friends here in the United States.
    In the last four years, Cuba has purchased over TWO BILLION worth of agricultural commodities from the U.S. U.S. law requires they pay cash in advance and Cuba has never been a day late or a dollar short.
    Cuba is our neighbor and we should act in a neighborly way toward it.

    Reply

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