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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 7)

Frankly, you know, I think that domestic politics will always come back to the front of this issue. But on the foreign policy front, since Cuba has continued to be so stable since Fidel's illness, why should they fix what ain't broke?

On the domestic politics front you do take a big risk as a party to really shake things up. Even if you wanted to, it would be hard. I remember at the end of the Clinton administration, there were some noises coming out of the secretary of state's office about what kind of bold moves could be made with respect to Cuba, and that was about legacy. I guess President Bush might be looking for legacy issues. But his family has some ties with the Cuban hard-liners that I can't see him wanting to touch that.

CA: Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't he have limited options for any executive decisions to change U.S. policy, especially in regard to the embargo?

Sweig: I would argue that there are plenty of loopholes within Helms-Burton. It is fact that right now he can't make the embargo go away. That's codified by Helms-Burton. That takes congressional action.

But Raúl Castro has now said twice, and the second statement is stronger than the first: We are ready to negotiate anything but our own survival. A clever White House looking at the Latin American panorama, looking at the domestic politics, would potentially look at that and say, "Goodness, what might we be able to talk with the Cubans about and what kind of rabbit could we pull out of the hat here?"

The Cubans want access to our markets. We share a bunch of security issues that are generally untended to in the Straits of Florida. There's oil drilling in Cuban territory in the Gulf of Mexico. Is there any sort of environmental preparation that the two countries are planning on the cleanup front?

There are security issues. There are terrorism issues. There's port security. There's bilateral issues that we could, and should, be talking with them. It wouldn't imply that we like their system or that we reward Raúl. It's straight national security stuff. Who knows? By the virtue of a gesture of that nature, that would send a political signal to Congress that perhaps the White House was willing to stand back while the Congress ushered in more significant legislation and the embargo. In this sort of dynamic, face-saving measures for Cuba's leaders would be critical too.

CA: Is there anybody in the White House that's promoting that message?

Sweig: They have designated Carlos Gutierrez, the secretary of commerce, to be the senior person in this administration and a number of other people in the State Department, senior-level career foreign service people, to speak on this. They and the bureaucracy made a big deal out of their success in marginalizing the Cuban hard-liners in the Congress.

But honestly I don't think there is any energy at the White House for a big Cuba policy shift.

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