Monday, March 21, 2016 at 6:41 AM

Cuba: Obama Has Landed

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

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The Obama administration eased trade and travel restrictions on Cuba Tuesday, granting more economic benefits for the communist-ruled island nation in advance of President Obama’s historic trip…

Mr. Obama will start a three-day visit to Cuba on Sunday, becoming the first sitting president to travel there in nearly 90 years…

‘These steps not only expand opportunities for economic engagement between the Cuban people and the American business community, but will also improve the lives of millions of Cuba’s citizens,’ said [U.S.] Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

(Washington Times, March 15, 2015)

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 8.31.54 PMActually, this administration has taken many steps in recent months to ease America’s 55-year economic and political embargo against Cuba. So many in fact that Obama has already vindicated the following observation, which I made almost a year ago in “Summit of the Americas: Obama Teasing CARICOM, Testing Cuba, Trolling China,” April 12, 2015:

You’ve probably heard Republicans yelping about Congress retaining ultimate authority to lift the embargo. But Obama enjoys such comprehensive authority to constructively engage Cuba that, by the time he leaves office, formally lifting the embargo is likely to be anticlimactic at best.

No doubt this explains why the Castro regime is rolling out the red carpet – complete with painting old buildings and sweeping dirt streets. Not to mention the relief the Castros must be feeling.

After all, reports are that Obama will emulate the way his predecessors, like Ronald Reagan, dealt with China and Russia’s communist leaders. Which means that he will spend more time constructively engaging the Castros about improving relations than lecturing them about human rights.

He will stroll the streets of Old Havana and meet with Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro; watch Cubans and Americans face off in a baseball game; and deliver a televised address in the historic theater where Calvin Coolidge, the last American president to visit, spoke 88 years ago. He will meet with entrepreneurs and dissidents, Cubans who have found ways to challenge the status quo in a country undergoing vast change…

Mr. Obama’s trip, rich with symbolic significance, represents the start of a new era of engagement between the United States and Cuba that could open the floodgates of travel and commerce, and that has already unlocked diplomatic channels long slammed shut.

(New York Times, March 19, 2016)

I have written many commentaries over the years, this day prefiguring. Therefore, I shall suffice to mark this occasion by reprising excerpts from just a few of them.

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  • From “Dancing on Fidel Castro’s Grave Is Not Only Unseemly; It’s Premature,” August 2, 2006:

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 8.31.33 PMUnbridled conceit and arrogance among Miami Cubans explain their support for continuing the embargo … until kingdom come if necessary. Nothing betrays this quite like them presuming that — once the Castro brothers die off — they’ll be able to return to Cuba to inherit the political power and social privileges they or family members abdicated decades ago. And they presume this prerogative without any regard for the Cubans who have been toiling at home, waiting for their opportunity to govern their country.

Except that, at this rate, a well-indoctrinated Elian Gonzalez will be Cuban dictator before Miami Cubans are disabused of their antic pining for their paradise lost.

  • From “European Union Lifts Sanctions against Cuba. United States Will Follow … Eventually,” June 23, 2008:

Advocates for America’s puerile, inhumane and hypocritical policy towards Cuba invariably cite Fidel Castro’s dictatorship as justification for sustained hostilities. But all one has to do is cite China – with whose dictators the U.S. courts a very beneficial relationship – to dismiss this justification as demonstrably specious…

Long before his first trip to Cuba in 1998, Pope John Paul II decried America’s policy towards Cuba as ‘oppressive, unjust, and ethically unacceptable…’ He pronounced that ‘imposed isolation strikes the people indiscriminately, making it ever more difficult for the weakest to enjoy the bare essentials of decent living, things such as food, health, and education.’

  • From “Fifth Summit of the Americas: Managing Expectations,” April 17, 2009:

I am convinced that, if re-elected, Obama will seal his legacy by … normalizing relations with Cuba.

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This is a truly transformative development. Indeed, Obama’s opening to Cuba should rank alongside Nixon’s opening to China in the annals of world history.

That said, if you have any interest in experiencing the exotic, frozen-in-time Cuba, I encourage you to go as soon as practicable. After all, foreign corporations are already transforming the island into a Caribbean version of Miami Beach.

Tourists will rue this transformation of course. But, as a Caribbean native, I understand all too well why Cubans cannot wait for the Americans to transport them into the twenty-first century at warp speed — complete with everything from modern cars to modern homes and fast food.

Viva Cuba!

Related commentaries:
Cuba opens Washington embassy

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