Latin America To Push Obama On Cuba Embargo At Summit

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Latin America To Push Obama On Cuba Embargo At Summit

  1. 1. 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. Bush. That would mesh with his stated goal of changing the perception of “U.S. arroganceâ€
  2. 2. “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. Symbolically Important 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. Past Protests 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.
  3. 3. 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. ‘Unpredictable’ Chavez “The main concern at this point for the U.S. is the unpredictability of Chavez,†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 outside-the-hemisphere powers. 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 OAS. 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 Washington. ‘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
  4. 4. 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.”

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