The White House Choice on May 20th

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President Bush at the White House, "Cuban Independence Day" 2008
photo Charles Dharapak / AP

The Bush Administration made much of "Cuban Independence Day", May 20th. It often used the anniversary as a platform to launch rhetorical volleys and harsh policies directed against Havana, Cuban Americans, and any normal relationship between our peoples.

It is a date that means one thing to the 10% of Cubans who've migrated to the US and just the opposite to the 90% for whom the island is home. To most Cubans the revolution that took power in 1959 was a rejection of the compromised political and economic sovereignty forced on them by the US in 1902, regardless of how they feel about their country's economy and government today.

How should the Obama Administration balance shoring up its ethnic support in Florida with reaching out to the people of Cuba and their leaders? Can it avoid choosing which version of history to endorse? Should it depoliticize the anniversary by ignoring it, or by using it for a counter-intuitive initiative that rises above old divisions?

A logical step is to employ the date and any related event to announce that the President will finish the job of non-tourist travel, reaching beyond Cuban Americans to enable unlimited visits for educational, religious, cultural, humanitarian and other people to people purposes. According to a May 5 story in The Hill newspaper, the only reason why many Americans can't go to Cuba legally now is Senator Robert Menendez' apparent ability to still intimidate a conflicted administration.

Some Cuba policy watchers suspected that Menendez may have had a behind-the-scenes impact on Obama's decision not to also allow U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba for cultural, academic and humanitarian purposes. This would have marked a return to the policies in effect at the end of the Clinton administration.

Menendez spoke to Denis McDonough, director of strategic communications at the National Security Council, shortly before Obama announced his Cuba order. McDonough advises the president on Cuba policy.

A contact in Havana who is often critical of government policy has written an essay on what May 20th means to most Cubans which can be read here

For a longer analysis, read one of the excellent histories of Cuba by Lou Perez of the University of North Carolina, his indispensable "Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution" and most recently "Cuba in the American Imagination". Lou has also written a compelling op ed for McClatchey about the challenge facing the Administration to go far enough to make a difference which can be seen here.