Friday, May 23, 2008

Obama Wants to Meet With Raul Castro

The LA Times reports that Barack Obama advocates meeting with leaders in Cuba as a way of fostering democracy in that country.

Speaking before the Cuban American National Foundation, a powerful Cuban exile group, he said he would press for immediate and unlimited family travel and remittances, adding "there are no better ambassadors for freedom than Cuban Americans."

Obama takes a risky position in calling for direct diplomacy with the Castro regime in front of a group that deeply loathes the Cuban dictatorship. Response to that statement was muted at best. But in nearly 50 years, there has been absolutely no budging between the US and Cuba. Fidel never wavered in his contempt for the US, and his brother Raul does not seem so far to be willing to walk a new line. And there hasn't been a single president since 1959 who wanted direct dialogue, choosing instead to blockade Havana and perpetuate a crushing embargo. Poverty in the island nation is rampant, there is precious little technology, and families have been split for 50 years.

It's clear that the status-quo -- predictably supported by McCain the Bush clone -- doesn't work. A fresh approach is needed. Obama's call for direct talks does not excite the exile community, who remain firmly against such talks until the release of political prisoners. But that approach guarantees continued enmity, not a fertile ground for the growth of democracy.

By easing travel restrictions and remittances, Obama can straddle the line as the seeds take root. A little bit of embargo, a little bit of travel, spreading around some money. Cuba may not become a shining example of democracy for years to come, but you have to start somewhere.

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