Next year, the US embargo against Cuba will be a half-century old, a mold-encrusted relic in the cold war museum, yet there it is—and it doesn’t look like the Obama administration is planning to end it anytime soon. On January 14, the White House announced a series of half-measures that weaken American efforts to isolate Havana, welcome steps all: academic, cultural, and religious groups can now freely travel to Cuba; American citizens are free to send money to non-relatives in the island nation, up to $500 every three months; and any US airport may now allow licensed charter aircraft to fly roundtrip. It’s a follow-up to measures that President Obama announced in April 2009 lifting restrictions on travel and cash remittances by family members of Cuban residents.
Yet the president’s actions hardly qualify as a profile in courage. He held off making the announcement last fall, when hawks in Congress, including Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Albio Sires (D-NJ) warned that easing anti-Cuba measures could hurt Democrats’ re-election chances, and when the decision was made it was released late on Friday evening, while Republicans were out of town on a retreat. Yet more than two-thirds of voters support easing travel restrictions on Cuba, and 75 percent (86 percent of Democrats) back the idea of a meeting between US and Cuban leaders. Conservative groups, from the US Chamber of Commerce to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops want to end the isolation of Cuba. And in the end, what Obama did only gets American policy back roughly to where it was during the Clinton administration, before George W. Bush tightened the screws.
The usual suspects made noises: Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the chairwoman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, condemned Obama’s decision, and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) called it a "gift to the Castro brothers." It remains to be seen if Obama will quietly ignore their ilk and move forward to end the embargo once and for all. The Cuban foreign ministry, while calling Obama’s actions "positive," concluded: "They have a very limited reach and do not change US policy against Cuba." It’s past time for change we do believe in.