A Partially Happy New Year

Retiring President Lula at breakfast with press


Relations between the United States and Latin America have not changed in any meaningful way under President Barack Obama, Brazilian head of state Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said here Monday.

"The truth is that nothing has changed and I view that with sadness," the departing chief executive said during a breakfast with journalists at the presidential palace in Brasilia.

The rumor is circulating that the Administration will finally make an announcement on Tuesday about academic and religious travel and airports from which charter flights can originate.  Tony Martinez has published the story on his blog

If he is correct, it is far less than had been reported in August:

"The central component of the policy involves 'people to people' exchanges that would allow academics, corporations, humanitarian groups and athletic teams to travel to Cuba. The administration is not lifting tourist travel limits or the strict trade restrictions currently in place but would promote cultural exchanges and programs with universities or allow U.S. farms to send assistance to Cuban farmers as part of the new rules." 
The White House seems to favor the prolonged pain of slowly removing the bandage rather than a bold action.  This is odd because it will take the same amount of flak from hardliners no matter how much or how little it does.   Even now they still oppose unrestricted Cuban American travel.

Accordingly, a measured response of appreciation and criticism is in order.

Case in point: The Center for Cuban Studies is challenging the denial of its license renewal for humanitarian travel.  CCS is not likely to benefit from the announcement.    (More information at cubaupdate.org)


Meanwhile, if you did not catch Sixty Minutes story on jazz great Wynton Marselis performances in Cuba (the product of another incremental opening), it is available here.

The underlying problem of policy being mired in  paradigms of the past was reflected by the official spokesman for the State Department, PJ Crowley, who set an impossible bar for serious dialog with Cuba as I reported in this blog before Christmas: 

"before we would envision any fundamental change in our relationship, it is Cuba that has to ...fundamentally change its political system"   

Perhaps Assistant Secretary Arturo Valenzuela will clarify Crowley's comment when he speaks at the Brookings Institution Thursday morning.

John McAuliff

Fund for Reconciliation and Development


UPDATE January 4

Looks like both Tony Martinez and I were overly optimistic that the White House had finally gotten it together.

It would be nice to think they held up the announcement of travel reform because they had second thoughts about doing too little.  It is more likely that someone powerful berated them for doing too much.  

I certainly hope to be proven wrong and Lula to be too pessimistic.