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Cuba's Future: An Interview with Julia Sweig

A top policy analyst in Washington talks about Cuba today, a post-Fidel Castro regime, key players on the U.S. side and new ideas for changes in America's approach toward its island neighbor
Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Cuba, May/June 2007

(continued from page 5)

Sweig: Yes. Family travel was all but eliminated in 2004. But it was politically damaging to the Republican Party. They lost 14 percent of the Cuban-American vote in Florida by comparison to 2000 against the Democratic candidate, John Kerry, who took a moderate position in support of Cuban-American and people-to-people contact.

But there is some possible bipartisan movement in the Senate to remove the travel bans.

In general, however, the Republican view is this is a regime that absolutely ought to be changed. Democrats are not necessarily sympathetic to a 50-year authoritarian regime, but are a little bit more eager to, or ready to criticize, the hypocrisy of U.S. policy and the failures of U.S. policy in Latin America. They see Cuba as a symbol that is a leftover Cold War policy. They would argue for following the model of Eastern Europe and other formally closed societies, that the best way to bring openness internally is openness externally.

For reasons that I think have to do with the domestic politics of the issue, any hearings will start in the House of Representatives. They will address hot-button issues to take the Bush administration to task over issues like the fact that Luis Posada Carrilles, who is a terrorist, is being held on immigration charges but could, in principle, be released at any time. [Editor's note: Posada Carrilles is accused of being involved in the bombing of a Cubana Airlines plane in 1976.] He is a terrorist and needs to be treated as a terrorist. That's going to get a hearing.

Another hot button is the General Accounting Office report that just came out and shows that the lion's share of the money that is spent for a democracy promotion program just goes to the Miami-based anti-Castro cottage industry. It pales in comparison to Iraq, but for tiny little Cuba it embodies everything that's wrong with the policy. They will have hearings on that.

They may also have hearings on why Cuba is on the State Department's list of terrorist countries.

Then, Congress will have hearings on the overall merits of the policy on the travel ban. The travel ban is seen as the jewel in the crown. If you get rid of the travel ban, if you want to talk about a house of cards, the whole house of cards of U.S. policy collapses. Because that means that Americans, not just the two of us, go down there and see for themselves that Cuba is a real country, but not some boogeyman that we need to isolate and beat up.

In that context, you get the tourism industry pushing politically and then really, it's over. The travel ban will get a hearing, but my guess is because of the domestic politics of the issue, even the Democrats will be hesitant to push for much more than restoring Cuban-American family travel, as a first step. And then they'll give that some time to make itself felt. They will do something more after the 2008 election.

Domestic politics, and this relates back to Florida, could slow the progress toward a change. Although the Cuban American National Foundation is not dead yet, there is at least one Democrat who is a member of its board, and he has made it very clear to his party that the swing vote in Florida is up for grabs. He wants the Democratic Party to believe that if his party goes too fast on the Cuban embargo, they will have a big political price to pay. But I'm not sure of that anymore.

CA: Is that still true even though many Cuban Americans today are second- or even third-generation and they feel differently than their parents or grandparents, who came here after the revolution?

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