Today, the Miami Herald published Barack Obama's position on Cuba, in preparation for his upcoming Miami visit.
Obama argues for lifting Cuban family travel and remittance restrictions enacted by the Bush II administration. He feels that family remittances and travel to Cuba are "a basic right in humanitarian terms, but also our best tool for helping to foster the beginnings of grass-roots democracy on the island."
But, in my opinion, these two proposals are the only clear offerings Obama provides to potential voters. His comments about potential "bilateral talks", described as "aggressive and principled diplomacy," are conditional. "If a post-Fidel government begins opening Cuba to democratic change," then Obama will take steps towards normalization with Cuba. "Democratic change" (whatever it is) as a condition towards negotiations and normalization with Cuba is unfortunately destined for another era of US isolationism. The Cuban government is not likely to undertake democratic reforms, especially when suggested by the US as a precondition. If this message was aimed towards the Cuban population, then it may also be rejected or ignored. This proposal, in some respects, contradicts what Obama said last month suggesting bilateral talks with Cuba "without precondition[s]."
Political blogger Marc Ambinder pointed out this more nuanced position by Obama. He writes: "The contours of Obama's preconditionless diplomatic posture are becoming clear: 'Without preconditions' does not mean without prior assumptions or bargaining positions." Ambinder rightly connects on another comment Obama made about "important inducements we can use in dealing with a post-Fidel government." Obama, in my opinion, is talking about the US embargo, and its several economic restrictions. The position of using the US embargo as a "bargaining chip" in future US/Cuba relations also belongs to Jaime Suchlicki, committed academic to current US policy.
According to Suchlicki, unilaterally lifting the US embargo "without any changes in Cuba, [will leave us with] no bargaining chips with a future [Cuban] government." While I think a fair trade can be made with the embargo (e.g. political prisoners), it will be very difficult, since the Cuban government has been oppose to the US embargo since the 60's, and has ever since called for its abolishment without conditions. Furthermore, bargaining for "democratic change" with Cuba seems highly unlikely to be accepted, given our hostile US/Cuba history.
But, Obama may be making a smart move. Focusing only on the Cuban family travel and remittance restrictions, Obama is placing trust with recent polling data that shows disapproval with those restrictions enacted in 2004 by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba. Earlier this year, the FIU Cuba poll showed that about 60 percent of Cubans in Miami-Dade County supported a reversal of the 2004 restrictions on travel and remittances. A year earlier, another poll [PDF] showed that Cubans in Miami were still kinda split on the issue: 49% supporting the restrictions, and 45% opposed. But, in that poll, registered Cuban voters (72% Republican) supported the restrictions with 54%, versus 40% opposed.
Yet, the picture is more complex. Last week, Miami Herald's Beth Reinhard described an evolving Hispanic electorate in Miami that may push Democratic candidates forward. Among the important factors are the increasing numbers of registered independent voters, decreasing levels of registered Republican voters (almost a 10% decrease in Hialeah since 1998), and more important issues like immigration, healthcare, education and the Iraq War. On one poll, the question of Cuba was ranked sixth among main concerns in Miami. The various changes in attitudes on the question of Cuba, over many years, was best summarized by the recent FIU Cuba poll of about 1000 Cubans in Miami-Dade County. And, recent changes in Cuba's political leadership have also altered some views about a future approach to Cuba, even supporting negotiations.
Obama will surely be addressing these potential voters on Saturday.
Here are more thoughts from Stuck on the Palmetto, The Cuban Triangle and the Babalu Blog.