AP Analysis: Obama free to change US-Cuba policy
By ANITA SNOW – 1 hour ago
HAVANA (AP) — Barack Obama will be the first American president in nearly 50 years to have a relatively free hand in deciding whether to ease punitive Cold War-era policies toward communist Cuba, and the foreign policy team he announced this week seems predisposed to make it happen.
Obama said during the campaign that immediately after taking office on Jan. 20, he will lift all restrictions on family travel and cash remittances to
Obama also said he would up uphold the embargo imposed after the island went communist, to use as leverage until Cuba shows "significant steps toward democracy," starting with freedom for approximately 219 jailed political prisoners.
For nearly five decades, the embargo is where the two nations have been stuck, each side demanding that the other change first.
What's different now is that Obama says he will talk directly with Cuban President Raul Castro, who recently and repeatedly offered to negotiate on neutral ground as equals.
These openings have Cubans feeling more optimistic about getting unstuck than ever before.
"What we want is that the Americans no longer look at us as enemies," said Lazaro Medardo, 68, who was selling sunflowers, red roses and gladiolas from a pushcart in old
Cuban-Americans have had a mixed reaction to Obama's campaign promises — most voted against him, but Obama carried
"Obama already has a much freer hand than Bush did," said Daniel Erickson of the Inter-American Dialogue, a
Obama is therefore free to chart a new course. He can reverse some policies of President George W. Bush with a pen stroke, and while undoing the embargo would take a majority in Congress, that's easier than ever with Democrats holding sizable majorities.
Top figures in the incoming administration also have favored more open relations.
As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Vice President-elect Joe Biden called for re-establishing mail service with
The future secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, campaigned against Obama's openness to talking with Raul Castro, but said she would respond positively to Cuban actions demonstrating a willingness to change. Also, Obama's initial moves have a
Obama's nominee for U.N. ambassador, Susan E. Rice, has said
The new commerce secretary, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, has been there and done that, in small ways.
As a congressman,
The saga of Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy who was rescued at sea and became a cause celebre in 2000, is being revisited as Obama's appointments are studied for clues to future
Eric Holder, Obama's choice for attorney general, was the No. 2 Justice Department official when armed federal officers seized Elian and returned him to his father in
Embargo supporters fear the Obama team will concede too much.
"For the embargo or the additional sanctions to be lifted, certain steps must be taken: Respect for human rights, the release of all political prisoners and free and democratic elections,"
"It would be extremely naive to believe that the good will of a smart person could change what is the result of centuries of selfishness and vested interests," ailing former President Fidel Castro recently wrote about Obama.
But some Cubans think Obama just might make change happen.
"His thinking is more international," 35-year-old Eduardo Betancourt said as he leaned on his bicycle in an Old Havana plaza. "I don't have family in the
Anita Snow has been the chief of The Associated Press bureau in