A Good Time for a Bold Move
The landing of hurricanes Ike and Gustav on Cuban shores -- already reaping damage Fidel Castro has compared to that brought upon Hiroshima -- may bring the issue of the Cuban embargo back into electoral politics. Or it might simply glance off.
These disasters provide an incredible opportunity for both candidates to send a signal to a hemisphere thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been largely neglected in years past. Feelings of abandonment are sure to heighten as nations attempt to rebuild, especially without so much as a mention on the presidential trail.
Barack Obama offered...
a written statement, joining Ã¢â‚¬Å“with leaders in the Cuban American community in calling on President Bush to immediately suspend restrictions on family remittances, visits and humanitarian care packages from Cuban Americans for a minimum of 90 days,Ã¢â‚¬Â but has failed to actually speak about the tragedy in Haiti, Cuba or elsewhere in the region.
McCain has previously held that restrictions should not be lifted until the U.S. can be Ã¢â‚¬Å“confident that the transition to a free and open democracy is being made,Ã¢â‚¬Â and doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t appear to have taken a position since Gutav and IkeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Caribbean devastation.
The Cuban government declined $100,000 the U.S. had offered to deliver through existing charitiesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ channels, stating Ã¢â‚¬Å“Cuba affirms that in reality the only correct, ethical (action) ... would be the total and definitive elimination of the harsh and cruel economic, commercial and financial blockade applied over nearly a half century against our nation.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Condoleezza Rice, in turn, stated: Ã¢â‚¬Å“I don't think in the context that we see now that the lifting of the embargo would be wise,Ã¢â‚¬Â referencing the transfer of power from Fidel to Raul.
Nonetheless, past hurricanes have brought about change in Cuba policy. In 2002, after Hurricane Michelle swept the Island, Cuba reached out to American grain suppliers after having Ã¢â‚¬Å“turned up its noseÃ¢â‚¬Â when such trade was initially legalized in 2000. In years since, the two have built a quiet and cumbersome relationship, the U.S. now standing a the island's primary food supplier, commerce in 2007 topping $437 million despite steep the steep obstacles of the embargo.
This is a potentially powerful time for engagement, and the power to demand that engagement resides squarely two men. Representative Howard Berman of California, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has also asked that Bush suspend restrictions on gifts, remittances, and travel to Cuba for ninety days.