Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry is going to give a major speech on Cuba on Friday, the 6th of November, at Boston University.
Congressman Bill Delahunt (D-MA) — who has been doing much of the heavy lifting on the Freedom to Travel (to Cuba) bill is also going to be at this important conference.
What has been interesting to watch in Senator Kerry’s speeches this past year is a tendency to define challenges more clearly than the White House — to articulate the costs of inaction or poor focus — and to assimilate different policy alternatives with a candid discussion of opportunities and costs.
Kerry did this the other day at the Council on Foreign Relations with a respectful critique of the administration’s Afghanistan policy. He has done the same on US-China policy and on climate change among other issues.
But why is Senator John Kerry about to give a major speech about Cuba??
Inquiring minds want to know — and I’m going to call Senate Foreign Relations Committee spokesman Frederick Jones and ask for some direction here.
If John Kerry is planning to simply validate the White House’s still too timid openings to Cuba and reinforce the pleas that President Obama and his national security council staff have been making to Raul Castro to engage in domestic reforms before the US can do more — then that would be out of character for the Foreign Relations Committee Chairman.
My hunch is that Kerry is emerging as a key constructive, respectful truth-teller to the administration, and I hope this holds in US-Cuba relations too.
Conditionality as a requirement of relaxing the embargo has failed for five decades — and Obama’s national security team should know that. NSC Latin America Director Dan Restrepo should know that — so too Denis McDonough, Ambassador Susan Rice, Tom Donilon and General Jim Jones.
Obama-style people to people engagement would lay the most opportune foundation for the kind of potential reforms the administration hopes to achieve. But continuing to push conditionality is a very good way for the Obama administration to make sure that the lowest hanging fruit in foreign policy opportunities remains hanging on the tree when the Obama team leaves the White House.
I hope that John Kerry encourages great “strategic depth” and thinking in the White House on Latin America in general — and that he calls for an end to restrictions on the “human right” of Americans to travel.
I still can’t believe that a Democratic President — the first African-American president of the United States — is content with removing all restrictions on travel for Cuban-American families while discriminating against all other classes of Americans.
That is just one benchmark of the domestic legal perversities that American society acquiesced to because of the Cold War.
The Cold War is over — and the American government should stop doing what Communist governments do in trying to restrict the travel of its citizens. Americans can go to North Korea, Iran, Vietnam, China, Russia, and just about everywhere else in the world if they can get the visas — but they may not go to Cuba.
I really don’t know what John Kerry is going to say on November 6th — but I’m counting on something significant.
I am hoping C-Span will cover the speech and that readers in Boston attend the Boston University conference.
— Steve Clemons