Latin America To Push Obama On Cuba Embargo At SummitDocument Transcript
Latin America to Push Obama on Cuba
Embargo at Summit
Play Video AP – U.S. eases Cuban travel, money restraints
Reuters – People wait in line to check in their luggage for the
next flight to Cuba at the Miami International …
Joshua Goodman Joshua Goodman – Mon Apr 13, 3:07 pm ET
April 13 (Bloomberg) -- When Barack Obama arrives at the fifth Summit of the Americas this week,
Cuba will be at the heart of the U.S. relationship with the rest of the hemisphere, exactly as it has
been for half a century.
While Latin American leaders split on many issues, they agree that Obama should lift the 47-year-
old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. From Venezuelan socialist Hugo Chavez to Mexico’s pro-
business Felipe Calderon, leaders view a change in policy toward Cuba as a starting point for
reviving U.S. relations with the region, which are at their lowest point in two decades.
Obama, born six months before President John F. Kennedy imposed the embargo, isn’t prepared to
support ending it. Instead, he’ll seek to satisfy the leaders at the April 17-19 summit in Port of
Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, with less ambitious steps disclosed by the administration today --
repealing restrictions on family visits and remittances imposed by former President George W.
That would mesh with his stated goal of changing the perception of â€œU.S. arroganceâ€
“All of Latin America and the Caribbean are awaiting a change in policy toward Cuba,” Jose Miguel
Insulza, Secretary General of the Washington-based Organization of American States, said in an
interview. “They value what Obama has promised, but they want more.”
The policy changes unveiled today also include an expanded list of items that can be shipped to the
island, and a plan to allow U.S. telecommunications companies to apply for licenses in Cuba.
Cuba, the only country in the hemisphere excluded from the 34-nation summit, is symbolically
important to the region’s leaders, many of whom entered politics under military regimes and looked
to Cuba and its longtime leader Fidel Castro, 82, for inspiration and support. Even though most
countries shun the communist policies of Castro and his brother, now-President Raul Castro, the
U.S. alone in the hemisphere rejects diplomatic and trade relations with the island.
“Cuba represents a 50-year policy failure in Latin America and that’s why it’s so important for
Obama to address it now,” says Wayne Smith, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy
in Washington, who headed the State Department’s Cuba interest section in Havana from
1979-1982. “Unless Obama wants to be booed off the stage, he better come with fresh ideas.”
The U.S. president, 47, thinks it would be “unfortunate” if Cuba is the principal theme at the summit
and would prefer the session focus instead on the economy, poverty and the environment, says
Jeffrey Davidow, the White House’s top adviser for the meeting. Obama also understands that he
can’t control the discussion and intends to deal with the other leaders as partners, Davidow told
reporters on April 6.
That should be enough to avoid a repeat of the circus atmosphere surrounding the previous
summit, held in 2005 in Argentina, when 30,000 protesters led by Chavez and Argentine soccer
legend Diego Maradona burned an effigy of Bush.
Obama will also benefit from the U.S.’s decision to take off the table its earlier proposal for a free-
trade area spanning the Americas, an issue that divided countries at the four previous summits
starting in 1994.
Still, Obama’s meeting with Chavez, who last month called the U.S. president an “ignoramus” when
it comes to Latin America, has the potential to generate a few sparks.
To defuse the tension, Obama may say the U.S. is seeking good relations with governments across
the political spectrum, says Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-
based research group. Chavez, 54, joined Bolivian President Evo Morales, an ally, in expelling the
U.S. ambassadors to their countries in September for alleged interference in domestic politics.
â€œThe main concern at this point for the U.S. is the unpredictability of Chavez,â€
U.S. influence in Latin America waned under Bush as the war on terror diverted attention to the
Middle East while the region expanded economic and diplomatic ties with Russia, China and other
In December, Brazil hosted the first-ever, region-wide summit of Latin American and Caribbean
nations that excluded the U.S. The summit reinforced other initiatives such as the Union of South
American Nations, which was formed by 12 countries to mediate regional conflicts, bypassing the
Taking the “minor step” of easing travel restrictions to Cuba, a campaign pledge Obama made
almost a year ago, may not satisfy the region’s increasingly assertive leaders, Julia Sweig, director
of the Latin America program at the Council on Foreign Relations, said in an interview from
‘A Lot on the Table’
“The Cubans are putting a lot on the table,” says Sweig, the author of two books on Cuba, including
the forthcoming “Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know.” “The U.S. should test their intentions.”
From Havana to the halls of Congress, momentum for a detente is building. Senator Richard Lugar
of Indiana, the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, urged Obama last month to
begin direct talks with the Cuban government and end U.S. opposition to its membership in the
OAS. Other bills would lift travel restrictions for all U.S. citizens.
Last week, the Cuban American National Foundation, the leading organization for Cuban exiles,
which is headed by a veteran of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, urged a “new direction” in policy
toward Cuba and expressed backing for several of Obama’s proposals. U.S. public opinion favors
normalizing relations 59 percent to 29 percent, according to a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll
taken Jan. 27-28. The poll had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
Meeting With Fidel
Fidel Castro last week met with seven U.S. lawmakers and in a column published on the Internet
said Cuba “doesn’t fear dialogue with the U.S.” Manuel Marrero Faz, senior oil adviser at the
Ministry of Basic Industries, said in an interview this month that U.S. oil companies, expropriated on
the island in 1960, would be welcomed back to drill if the embargo ends.
Obama said in May he’s taking his cues from predecessor Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s “Good
Neighbor” policy, announced in 1933, temporarily ended a long history of U.S. armed intervention in
Latin America and ushered in an era of unprecedented hemispheric prosperity.
For his effort, Roosevelt was praised in a 1936 calypso, “FDR in Trinidad,” commemorating his
stopover in the Caribbean island during a 28-day cruise to Latin America.
Obama, who has yet to set foot in the region, is already the subject of 20 steel-drum tunes, says
Ray Funk, a calypso expert in Fairbanks, Alaska. The most widely played, Funk says, is one called
“Barack the Magnificent.”