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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Obama lève des restrictions contre Cuba mais pas le blocus

by Cathy Ceïbe

Obama Lifts Restrictions on Cuba, but not the Embargo

Translated Saturday 25 April 2009, by V. Olivera

Diplomacy. The United States president allows money transfers and family travel to the Big Island. A political and strategic move on the eve of the summit of [most of] the American countries.

Just before heading to Mexico, his first diplomatic tour in Latin America, the president of the United States, Barack Obama, directed on Sunday the easing of a series of restrictive measures against Cuba. « The president gave instructions to the Secretary of State and secretaries of Treasure and Commerce to do what is necessary to lift all the restrictions on the ability of individuals to visit relatives and to send cash remittances », announced Dan Restrepo, adviser of the American administration for Latino America.

Normalization of relations ?

In 2007, Barack Obama advocated a normalization of relations with the Big Island, and easing of « the embargo that has governed relations between our countries for five decades. », he declared at the time. Such comments indeed point to a strategic move, after half a century of confrontation, exactly fifty years since the Cuban revolution declared its socialist nature.

The key measures announced concern mainly the Cuban-American community and their relatives living in the island (1,5 million). Indeed, a substantial readjustement of the sanctions established on May 2004, under the George W. Bush administration, which, at the time, enraged Cuban residents, especially in Florida, the anti-Castro stronghold. The Aide Commission for an alleged « Cuba Libre » limited the American citizens visit to fourteen days every three years (compared to once a year before) and monthly cash remittances of a 100 dollars to relatives on the island (compared to 300 before 2004).

It´s evident that Obama´s gesture is a return favor to the Cuban community, which traditionally voted Republican but which ignored the « elephant party´s » ballot in favour of the Democrats’ as a direct result of the reinforcement of the restrictions against Cuba, punishing first and foremost the island. These relaxations that project as well a trade section, particularly in telecommunications, have pushed up their shares on the stock market.

Last March, Congress, mostly Democrats, had already voted in favor of a travel ban exemption. For a many years, elected Democrats and Republicans delegates have also participated in this easing of strained relations, even if it is still too early to talk about renewing relations. The announced measures will not change the nature of the embargo unilaterally imposed in 1962 by the United States against Cuba. Nor will they reduce huge number of laws that ever since have strengthened considerably their coercive nature (Helms, Burton, Torricelli laws), implemented under the Democrat administration of Bill Clinton.

In a comments column broadcast Monday through the internet, former Cuban president Fidel Castro emphasized that « not a word was said about the blockade, which is the most cruel measure ». Cuba does not question Obama´s « sincerity and his will to change the politics and image of the United States », he writes. That´s why, president Raul Castro, « expressed his openness to a dialogue with Obama and, on the basis of the most strict respect for sovereignty, to normalization of relations with the United States ».

Little room for manoeuvre

As to timing, this is hardly a coincidence. The provision dictated by the president of the United States indeed comes about on the eve of the Americas Summit taking place in Trinidad and Tobago from April 17 to the 18. It also means a political sign directed to the group of Latin American heads of State assisting at these meeting, with the exception of Cuba, excluded since 1962 from the Organization of American States.

There is little room for manoeuvre for Barack Obama, who is meeting his counterparts on the continent for the first time. He is inheriting the discredit of the Bush administration in the region, which is substantial. Also because the very reason of this summit, namely the creation of a free-trade zone in the Americas (joining Canada to the Tierra del Fuego), is at a standstill, while it should have been put in place in 2005. The Latin American states actually refuse the economic subordination to Washington which lay at the basis of the initial project.

Finally, the political reconfiguration at work throughout the continent for the last ten years, has won out over the confinement into which Washington has plunged Cuba. Mexico or even Costa Rica, whose governments cannot be called subversives, have renewed their ties with the Big Island. In December 2008, the Group of Rio, the quintessential organization of the South continent, invited Cuba as a guest of honor, firmly condemning the sanctions punishing La Havana for half a century.

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