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