AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Testifying yesterday in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State-designate, Senator Hillary Clinton had this to say about U.S. Policy towards Cuba:
...The president-elect is committed to lifting the family travel restrictions and the remittance restrictions. He believes, and I think it's a very wise insight, that Cuban-Americans are the best ambassadors for democracy, freedom and a free market economy.
And as they are able to travel back to see their families, that further makes the case as to the failures of the Castro regime -- the repression, the political denial of freedom, the political prisoners -- all of the very unfortunate actions that have been taken to hold the Cuban people back.
You know, our policy is, first and foremost, about the freedom of the Cuban people and the bringing of democracy to the island of Cuba. We hope that the regime in Cuba, both Fidel and Raul Castro, will see this new administration as an opportunity to change some of their typical approaches.
Let those political prisoners out. Be willing to, you know, open up the economy and lift some of the oppressive strictures on the people of Cuba. And I think they would see that there would be an opportunity that could be perhaps exploited.
But that's in the future, whether or not they decide to make those changes.
What to make of it? Well, the obvious first: President Obama will fulfill his campaign promises and the door is open to more.
Looking beyond that is difficult, but earlier in the day, the incoming Secretary of State said that she looked forward to the Summit of the Americas, a hemispheric heads-of-state summit that will be held in Trinidad April 16-18 this year. Now, that was in the context of regional energy partnerships, for both renewable and fossil fuels, but the stage will be set for another big move on Cuba.
That's because while energy security and sustainability is a big issue for the United States, for Latin America and the Caribbean, the priority issue is ending the U.S. embargo with Cuba. It was practically all the Latin American and Caribbean heads of state could agree on last month at their meeting Of course, if the big hemispheric issue for Secretary-to-be Clinton is energy, Cuba's recent but questionable announcement of 20 billion barrels of oil makes a policy shift essential.
With this hearing out of the way, the next big indicator of Cuba policy may be the President's inaugural address, but I don't expect too much. Really, it will be the selection of the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Who that is will speak volumes about the Obama administration's intentions and pacing.
Nevertheless, for Cuba policy, the game is now on.
Hillary ClintonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s confirmation hearing offered a limited opening to the internal planning of the Obama Administration on Cuba:
SENATOR BARRASSO (R, WY): As you know, right now we have strict laws and regulations limiting economic transactions with -- with Cuba, with relatives of folks who are here. Any thought on lifting restrictions on families to visit and send -- and send things to Cuba?
SENATOR CLINTON: Senator the president-elect is committed to lifting the family travel restrictions and the remittance restrictions. He believes, and I think it's a very wise insight, that Cuban-Americans are the best ambassadors for democracy, freedom and a free market economy." (full text here)
The next Secretary of State is on message with Obama's campaign position, including his politically astute but problematic view that Cuban-Americans are superior to other Americans as ambassadors.
Thinking positively, while Clinton's answer does not address non-tourist travel, it implies continued commitment to unlimited family travel and does not preclude acting more boldly.
Clinton went on to say:
And as they are able to travel back to see their families, that further makes the case as to the failures of the Castro regime -- the repression, the political denial of freedom, the political prisoners -- all of the very unfortunate actions that have been taken to hold the Cuban people back.
Obama and now Clinton, do a rhetorical disservice to Cuban Americans even as they move towards a far more humanitarian policy on family reunions.
Cuban Americans certainly can play an important role for reconciliation and mutual understanding and could have a positive influence on Cuba's economic development and political evolution, but that potential is undermined if visits home are touted as the latest weapon of yanqui intervention.
Relations between any overseas population and those "left behind" are psychologically and sociologically complicated, as Obama eloquently captures in his first book about his own "homecoming" to Kenya. While browsing You Tube, I came across a short video that captures Cuba's version in very human terms. It can be seen here.
Based on three decades of personal experience with Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Ireland, I am very enthusiastic about the contribution that diaspora populations can make to their country of origin and relations between old and new homelands. Culture, investment, and transfer of knowledge benefit both substantially. Internal political reform is inevitably affected, but ironically the more overt that dimension, the harder it is to accomplish. At a basic human level, the last thing people who have struggled to survive and succeed at home want is for someone from the wealthier and Ã¢â‚¬Å“more advancedÃ¢â‚¬Â new land coming back with gratuitous advice.
Factor in the complication of half a century of hostile exile politics in nearby Miami, and the necessity is obvious for broader than Cuban American interaction through all non-tourist travel.
Obama world has put up a new interactive Citizens Briefing site on change.gov to allow people to suggest topics for Presidential action. It permits posting your own briefing, as well as commenting on others and voting them up or down. I have posted the text of the on-line letter to the President-elect under the title "non-tourist travel to Cuba". (The letter now has nearly 1000 signers and can be joined here)
The more votes a briefing receives, the more visible it is to other site visitors, and the more likely it is to catch the attention of the White House.
Go here and after you create an account and sign in, insert Cuba Travel or Cuba in the search box.
Raul Castro's interview on December 31 suggests the road map for serious US-Cuba reconciliation. His view of Barack Obama, while more cautious, is not unlike that of his daughter (see following post). His theme of mutual gestures reprises the case for a prisoner exchange (see below).
Journalist: Since the recent result of the presidential election in the United Status, various analysts in the international press have speculated that there are expectations of change with Barack ObamaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s rise to the White House. What is your assessment of that?
RaÃƒÂºl Castro: Now there is a president that has aroused hopes in many parts of the world; I think excessive hopes, because although he is an honest man, and I believe that he is, a sincere man, and I believe that he is, one man cannot change the destiny of a country, and far less Ã¢â‚¬â€œ I mean one man alone Ã¢â‚¬â€œ in the United States. He can do a lot, he can take positive steps, he can advance just ideas, he can curb the tendency, almost uninterrupted since the emergence of the United States, of almost all presidents to have had their war, or their wars. He said that he goes to get out of Iraq, good news. He says heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to double the forces in Afghanistan, bad news. The solutions to the problems of the world cannot be founded on war.
I think that there is no solution in Afghanistan, except for one: to leave the Afghanis in peace. Only Alexander the Great entered that country and returned unscathed, maybe because he married an Afghani princess, but, above all, because he left quickly. The British suffered a defeat there in the 19th century; in the 20th century the Soviets suffered another defeat, which we all experienced, and in the 21st century the U.S. and other forces remaining in Afghanistan will also suffer a defeat. These are realities and that is negative.
The vast resources that they are being dedicated to military matters, to war, since the war in VietnamÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ Why the Vietnam War? Why the aggression? Close to 60,000 U.S. soldiers killed for what? I do not know the huge quantity Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it must be two or three time greater Ã¢â‚¬â€œ of those disabled, wounded, mutilated. Why four million Vietnamese from both parts killed? For what objectives? What did they achieve? Why the 50-year blockade of Cuba, what have they achieved? They have made us stronger, we feel prouder, our resistance, we are stronger, we are more confident.
I hope that I am wrong in my appraisal. Hopefully Mr. Obama will have some successes; in terms of us, that he is successful, but in a just policy, and that he can help to solve, with the power that they have, the grave problems of the world.
Our policy is well-defined: any day that they want to discuss, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll discuss, in equality of conditions; as I have already said, without even the smallest shadow over our sovereignty and as equals. And, as is usually the case, or was the case, that from time to time someone would come along to ask us to make a gesture, just as I received a letter from a former president suggesting Ã¢â‚¬â€œ before the U.S. elections Ã¢â‚¬â€œ that changes were approaching and that it would be good if Cuba was to make a gesture, with the same kindness that he wrote me I responded: the time for unilateral gestures is over; gesture for gesture. And we are disposed to talk whenever they decide, without intermediaries, directly. But we are not in any hurry, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not desperate, and, of course, we have said it and Fidel has said it for years: we will not talk with the stick and the carrot, that time is over, that was in another period.
That is our position, we shall go on patiently waiting. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s incredible that with the Cuban temperament we have learned patience; we have it and at least in this we have demonstrated it.
The full interview available here provides a revealing perspective on US-Cuba history. Like any national leader's narrative, it is a partisan view of a contentious history, but understanding where the other side comes from is the place that any serious effort for reconciliation must begin
Mariela Castro is Director of the National Center for Sex Education in Cuba and the outspoken daughter of Cuba's President.
She was interviewed by Russia Today and the entire video is worth watching on You Tube. Following are excerpts of most relevance to US-Cuba relations, in particular her comments on socialism and democracy and her positive evaluation of President-elect Obama.
Anastasia Haydulinam, Russia Today: One day your uncle Fidel Castro, the symbol of longevity of the revolution, is going to die. Do you think his death will change the status quo of your Cuba?
Mariela Castro: First of all, the death of Fidel will bring great suffering for the Cuban people, and it will be an enormous loss. But as far as I can see, Cubans are willing to continue on the path of socialism even when our Comandante is no longer with us, even when my father and other forefathers of the revolution are not. Our people want socialism. Of course, we are very self-critical, so what we need is a better enriched version of it that will resolve most of the existing contradictions. The people themselves are proposing actions necessary for the survival of our socialist society, a society that should always guarantee social justice, equality, and solidarity within the nation, as well as in relations with others. We want welfare, but not as exaggerated as that of the consumer societies. I think that socialism in Cuba will survive and become what we have considered to be a utopia.
Anastasia Haydulina, : What other changes would you like to see in Cuba?
Mariela Castro: The first I would like the US government to lift the financial, economic, and commercial blockade that it has imposed on our island for fifty years against the Cuban people and that considerably prevented us from achieving our development goals. It has affected our economy, our commercial relations, and financial mechanisms. Cuba doesn't receive credits from any bank, and it's very difficult for us to survive in the field of international economy. The companies that trade with Cuba are being penalized. We have big problems with the Internet without the access to optical fiber. This would be fundamental for life in Cuba to change, for its economy to grow, the salaries to rise. Then, we'd be able to produce, obtain more materials and use the latest technologies. For example, I'd like to see improvements in the democratic participation mechanisms on the island, so that our government could function more fluently. It has a very peculiar and good structure, like no other in the world, but it lacks maturity. That's why we need to cultivate the mechanisms for people's participation. It's one of the things that preoccupy me most and that will bring about a whole range of other changes.
Anastasia Haydulina: What do you expect from the new President of the United States?
Mariela Castro: I expect wonderful changes for the world and for the people of the United States. The people of the United States deserve a President like Obama and a first lady like his spouse. They and all of us need civilization and not barbarity. We need intelligent and honest world leaders. I think with Obama's Presidency, a whole new era will begin. It will be a totally different story in the US and all over the world.
(transcript checked against translation but not original Spanish)
The best ambassadors for democracy in Cuba are American tourists, American businesses and American cultural representatives. The Cuban people may have been isolated from the world for 50 years, but they are smart and pragmatic. The United States should reach out to them, not only in their interest, but also in our own.
St. Louis Post Dispatch editorial
Happy 2009! The future begins today.
There are short and long term questions about what we know so far of President-elect Obama's policy on Cuba.
Short term the question is whether or not he has the vision and determination to use his authority to immediately end all restrictions on non-tourist travel.
Longer term the question is whether he can overcome a century long culture of big country chauvinism and regional hegemonism and engage Cuba with the kind of mutual acceptance of political differences and values that was essential for negotiation of normalization with Vietnam and China.
Will he honor his own commitment to domestic civil liberties, the views of two-thirds of Americans, and strongly expressed Western Hemisphere opinion, or buckle to cold war ideology and a fading minority of hard line special interest exiles with deep pockets for PAC contributions, apparently now counting on Senator Bob Menendez?
Is Obama pragmatic enough to see that gestures are not a one way street? If the US wants Cuba to release prisoners we value, will we release prisoners they value? (see earlier post below)
A positive step in the short term, opening up non-tourist travel, offers hope for the longer term as mutual understanding and respect depend on reestablishing and creating personal relationships. These ties will come from rapidly enabled trips by world affairs councils, religious bodies, museums, professional associations, business groups, students, alumni, elderhostel, people to people organizations, musicians, sports teams, etc. and allowing similar Cubans to visit counterparts here.
Even if we quickly ramp up to the peak level of 84,500 non-tourist US visitors in 2003, the number is a drop in the bucket economically in a sea of this year's record of 2.3 million tourists. But the psychological confidence building impact from mainstream encounters in both countries will be far more powerful than only Cuban American renewal. (This was the reason that the Bush administration throttled even Clinton's bureaucratically hobbled channel for non-tourist travel four years ago.)
Folks in the Obama inner circle and transition team need to start paying attention to what so many people are saying (see yesterday's Los Angeles Times editorial and a dozen statements from business, NGOs, religious bodies, educators, foreign policy specialists, etc.
They need to hear directly and forcefully that no decision is a bad decision.
[For a compilation of my New Year thoughts on the seven choices facing the new administration, go here.]
Tim Shipman has a long story in the December 28th issue of the British newspaper The Telegraph that cites "a Latin American adviser to Mr Obama's transition team" who conveys disturbing information:
First to go under Mr Obama will be rules, brought in by George Bush in 2004, that say Cuban-Americans can only return home once every three years. In addition to annual visits, the amount of money they can take will be raised from $300 to $3,000.
An adviser to Mr Obama said: "Cubans will be less dependent on the state for money and they will have greater contact with their relatives in the US. That can only aid understanding." Those changes require only a presidential order. The adviser said: "He could do it on day one. Obama has a lot on his plate with the economy so Cuba will not be top of his list but I'd expect it to happen fairly quickly." During the campaign, Mr Obama vowed to maintain the economic embargo older even than he is which prevents other Americans from visiting the island.
Obama's campaign statements and the platform pledge were for unlimited travel and remittances. He also said he would do it "immediately after taking office", which makes sense if a primary motive is humanitarian.
It is also not clear whether the transition team source or the reporter obfuscates Obama's ability to just as easily allow other kinds of non-tourist travel. Certainly travel by tens of thousands of mainstream Americans for educational, humanitarian, religious, cultural and sports purposes is at least as great a contribution to mutual understanding.
I'd like to think this is just a rewrite of a Miami Herald story of several weeks ago rather than new reporting but some of the details are fresh. Since then Obama has gotten a lot of flack from his strongest long term supporters because of national security appointees and the Rick Warren invitation.
A bold step on Cuba that provides general licenses for all twelve categories of non-tourist travels is an effective way to remind his friends, the American people and international opinion that he will bring real change to tired and counterproductive policies.
[Members of the transition team are listed here.]
Raul Castro has responded from Brazil to Barack Obama's call for release of prisoners by urging the US do the same:
"Let's do gesture for gesture," Castro told reporters during a visit to the Brazilian capital Brasilia.
"These prisoners you talk about -- they want us to let them go? They should tell us tomorrow. We'll send them with their families and everything. Give us back our five heroes. That is a gesture on both parts," he said, referring to five convicted Cuban spies in U.S. prison.
Coincidentally, I wrote Presidents Castro and Bush on December 10th urging both grant pardons.
In the generous spirit of the Christmas season and the ending of the year, please consider granting pardons to the five Cubans imprisoned in the US and the fifty-five Cubans imprisoned in Cuba as agents of hostile foreign powers.
I am not proposing your actions be characterized as reciprocal or seeking to compare or judge the merits of the arrest, trial and imprisonment of either group. Suffice to say both situations are surrounded by politics in both nations. One countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hero is the other countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s villain, and vice versa.
However, the prisoners and their families have suffered enough from the unresolved political conflict between our countries. Rather than waiting for their cases to be addressed as part of a bilateral normalization process in the future, I urge you to courageously remove this problem from the agenda of negotiation.
Castro's words are obviously directed at the next administration but wouldn't it be historic if such an important humanitarian breakthrough were accomplished by this one?
The deliberately provocative undiplomatic behavior by Chief of the Interests Section Jim Cason, conceivably at the behest of Otto Reich and Roger Noriega, provided the perfect excuse if not the reason for the 2003 "black spring" arrests in Cuba.
It would only be decent for the Bush Administration to clear the books by taking steps that will lead to the freedom of those remaining in prison in Cuba at no real cost to the US.
Keeping the five Cuban spies/heroes in our prisons accomplishes nothing except to provide an increasingly effective international propaganda theme for Havana.
Yesterday, deep in the Brazilian hinterland, 33 leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean called on President-elect Obama to end the embargo on Cuba.
Their unequivocal call to end a policy that the UN General Assembly has voted against 16 times, that has failed for 50 years to achieve its objective, and that amounts to a self-imposed barrier to entering into a 21st century relationship with the rest of the Hemisphere -- seems to me to be a strategic no-brainer for the incoming administration.
So what is the price of leadership in the Western Hemisphere? It's a trick question, really. In dollar terms, the cost of renovating Hemispheric relations is practically nil. Ending the embargo is the right thing to do, still leaves us plenty of carrots and sticks for negotiations with Cuba, and costs the Treasury nothing. In fact, given the explosion of trade with the Southern United States that would accompany the change in status, America would profit from the move.
What we gain, on the other hand, is priceless. Over the past two decades, the embargo has been more of a wall separating the U.S. from Latin America than it has been a siege of Cuba. The lack of trust rooted in the senseless persistence of the embargo combined with our Cold War support for right-wing governments, our misguided insistence on the "Washington Consensus" and now our unwillingness to recognize that our immigration problem is a symptom of the lack of economic opportunity in sending countries is the biggest barrier to progress in the region.
What is important to note, however, is that the "ask" from these Latin American nations is decisive, not incremental. President-elect Obama's campaign promises, calibrated to appeal to an demographic shift within Southern Florida that was incompletely understood until the election results arrived, those promises are not enough to get the nations of Latin America to embrace the United States once again.
In the second week of April, then-President Obama will have the opportunity to address the OAS Summit of the Americas in Trinidad. If he does not make his move before then, the president must take the opportunity to answer this call from his fellow heads of state.
This will be one of the greatest tests for Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. She will have to put her family's record on Cuba policy aside, aggressively pursue the national interest and prepare the way for then-President Obama to claim a major foreign policy victory. She can be the architect, but Mr. Obama must be seen as the author. What we need is a clear signal from within Mr. Obama's inner circle that it is time for a decisive shift in policy, one that can capture the goodwill and imagination of the nations of the Western Hemisphere.
Mrs. Clinton's challenge will be to hear the signal and prioritize an easy win in the midst of all the foreign policy and economic crisis management.
This just published by the good folks at McClatchy:
Commentary: An Obama Policy for Cuba
Lawrence B. Wilkerson and Patrick C. Doherty
With his national security team in place, President-elect Barack Obama's foreign policy principals will be immediately struck by how many complex and expensive challenges they will face. Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Israel-Palestine and Russia, will all require enormous energy, all the tools in our foreign policy toolbox, and will all take years to resolve, if they can be resolved. None of these crises will allow President Obama to signal swiftly to the world the kind of changes he proposes in American foreign policy. In contrast, U.S.-Cuba policy is low-hanging fruit: though of marginal importance domestically, it could be changed immediately at little cost.
At present, that policy is a major black spot on America's international reputation. For the rest of the world, our failed, obsolete and 50-year old policy toward Cuba goes against everything that Obama campaigned for, and the recent 185-3 U.N. vote to condemn the centerpiece of that policy, the embargo Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the 16th such vote in as many years Ã¢â‚¬â€œ makes that clear. The entire world believes our policy is wrong.
And the world is right. The fact is that since Cuba stopped exporting revolution and started exporting doctors and nurses, it ceased being a national security concern for the United States. And yet we restrict travel to the island - unconstitutionally - and constrain Cuban-Americans in the amount of money they can send to their families on the island. Moreover, the economic embargo hurts the Cuban people more than the Cuban leadership, and our Helms-Burton legislation imposes Washington's will on foreign businesses who wish to trade with Cuba, creating ill will in business communities from Canada to Brazil.
Our Cuba policy is also an obstacle to striking a new relationship with the nations of Latin America. Any 21st-century policy toward Latin America will have to shift from the Cold War-era emphasis on right-wing governments and top-down economic adjustment to creating a hemispheric partnership to address many critical issues: the revival of militant leftism, the twin challenges of sustainability and inclusive economic growth, and the rising hemispheric influence of Russia and China. But until Washington ends the extraordinary sanctions that comprise the Cuba embargo, Latin America will remain at arms-length, and the problems in our backyard - Hugo Chavez, drugs, immigration, energy insecurity - will simply fester.
The November elections shattered the old political constraints on Cuba policy. It used to be that Cuba policy was controlled by the Cuban-American community in South Florida. It had been gospel that to win Florida's 27 electoral votes a candidate for president had to win the Cuban-American vote. What was once gospel is now history. President-elect Obama won Florida with only 35 percent of the Cuban-American vote.
Obama now needs his own policy, not a retread of past failure. We see three important elements of such a policy.
First, Obama should call on Congress to end the travel ban on all Americans for any purpose. This action not only restores Americans' constitutional rights, it also unleashes the greatest ambassadors of democracy and free markets, the American people.
Second, Obama should call on the Congress to repeal two aspects of the Helms-Burton act to restore the Constitution's separation of powers and to end the disruptive use of extra-territorial sanctions.
Finally, Obama must sign an executive order to meet the urgent needs of the hundreds of thousands of Cuban people who were affected by a record four hurricanes this season. The Cuban people are suffering and even the wives of jailed political dissidents, in an October teleconference with first lady Laura Bush and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, pleaded for the United States to lift the embargo for humanitarian reasons. This can be done. But since the Cuban government will not accept traditional disaster assistance, the new president must use his "notwithstanding" authority enshrined in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to lift the embargo for 180 days and allow Cuba to purchase civilian items with cash or credit on the American market. Such an action will instill immediate good will among the Cuban people.
With these three objectives accomplished, Cuba policy will once again be back in the hands of the executive branch, which can begin a deliberate process of negotiations to normalize relations. While some will say such a policy amounts to "free concessions" to the Castro brothers, we look at it differently. Fidel and Raul Castro are at death's door. Change is coming. Everyone seems to realize it but the United States. A new, decisive policy toward Cuba, wrought by the new "change" president, will send a clear signal to the world that America is back. Moreover, such change will liberate U.S. relations with Latin America and open the door to dealing effectively with our own hemisphere's many challenges.
ABOUT THE WRITERS
Lawrence B.Wilkerson was chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. He and Patrick C. Doherty chair and direct, respectively, the U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative at the New America Foundation, 1630 Connecticut Avenue NW, 7th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20009; Web site: www.newamerica.net.
This essay is available to McClatchy-Tribune News Service subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.
Ã‚Â© 2008, New America Foundation
[The following was posted yesterday on The Washington Note]
I just heard that Matt Cooper commented on MSNBC Live that Secretary of Commerce-designate Bill Richardson is the guy to lead on Cuba. I think Cooper nailed it--the outgoing governor of New Mexico it is a natural fit with an elegant dash of poetic justice rarely found in Washington.
Richardson, many will remember, was famous for his one-on-one negotiations with nasty international characters, including Saddam Hussein and John Garang of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, and traveled to Venezuela, Nicaragua, North Korea to handle tough negotiations on behalf of American interests.
Even Republicans agree he's got the skills. Assistant Secretary Tom Shannon, who heads up Western Hemisphere affairs for Secretary Rice at the State Department had this to say in a Reuters interview about Gov. Richardson's role in freeing American hostages in Venezuela earlier this year: "Governor Richardson is a skilled negotiator with a lot of experience in this field and I am sure he has a lot to offer in terms of understanding possible resolutions of the hostage situation." That will come in handy as many believe our entire Latin America policy is being held hostage by our failed Cuba policy.
But the poetic justice is really that Gov. Richardson will be replacing Carlos Gutierrez as Commerce Secretary. As the highest-ranking Cuban American in the Bush administration, he's been the great defender of the embargo at home and around the world. He even lobbied European ministers, unsuccessfully, to stop the EU from ending their remaining sanctions against the island nation that now exports doctors, not revolution. Secretary Gutierrez also co-chairs the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, a creation of the Bush administration that coincided with the administration's tightening of the Cuban-American travel restrictions that, in turn, heralded the end of the unified Cuban-American voting bloc in South Florida.
In fact it is thanks to the over-reach of Secretary Gutierrez that Gov. Richardson will be able to go to Havana knowing that domestic politics - not to mention U.S. national interests - are on his side: Obama won Florida with only 35% of the Cuban American vote and a poll released just today says that anyway, 55% of Cuban Americans in South Florida want an end to the embargo completely.
Gov. Richardson will certainly benefit from the mission, should he in fact be offered it. In Congress, he led the House Hispanic Caucus and worked hard to bring the Latino community into the Obama camp. So look for an early negotiated trade with Cuba around the "Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot" policy that allows Cubans and only Cubans who elude the Coast guard or Border Patrol and set foot on American soil get fast-tracked to citizenship. No other ethnic group gets that treatment, and it's a thorn in the side of the Latino community that both Richardson and Obama can reap a lot of capital from plucking.
Welcome back to Washington, Mr. Secretary.