Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, determined to cast himself as the Democratic presidential candidate most open to new ideas on foreign policy, raised plenty of eyebrows recently when he proclaimed that he would be willing to meet personally with such rogue figures as Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. But that was nothing compared with the opinion article he published Tuesday in the Miami Herald saying Cuban Americans should have unrestricted rights to travel and send remittances to the island.
The other Democratic front-runner, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who portrays herself as the experienced foreign policy realist next to Obama’s cowboy diplomat, wasted no time in rejecting Obama’s proposal. Her campaign released a statement saying the U.S. stance toward Cuba shouldn’t be altered until a post-Castro regime cleans up its act. Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Rudolph W. Giuliani, meanwhile, said Obama’s plan would only strengthen Castro’s oppressive government.
The astonishing thing here is that after the U.S. has tried for nearly 50 years to force a regime change in Cuba by way of economic embargo with no success whatsoever, Obama is one of the few presidential contenders who dares to suggest that it’s time to try something different. Some might consider Obama’s move courageous given the political power of Florida’s Cuban American community, which helped put George W. Bush in the White House in 2000 and has cheered his efforts to tighten sanctions on Cuba. But the minority of Cuban immigrants who vote Democratic is deeply divided on the travel ban and would like to be able to send more money to relatives at home, so Obama may not be staking out such a bold position after all.
Regardless of the political implications, Obama is clearly right -- the only problem is, his proposal doesn’t go far enough. The travel ban should be lifted for everybody, not just Cuban immigrants. It is the height of irony that Americans can freely travel to countries such as Venezuela and Iran, which represent genuine threats to our security and economic interests, but not to Cuba, whose government is a threat only to its own people.The ban has done nothing to weaken Castro, but it does keep U.S. tourist dollars out of the hands of Cubans, who might be less inclined to heed their regime’s anti-U.S. propaganda if Americans were helping to raise their standard of living.
The U.S. shouldn’t lift all economic sanctions on Cuba until the island’s regime makes progress on democracy and human rights, but policies such as the travel ban and limits on remittances are simply counterproductive. Score one for Obama.