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My thoughts on the world around me

What Obama’s Cuba Policy Ought to Be

In the ebb and flow of politics, change is the ultimate catalyst for achieving better government. As in the market, where demand for an old and unattractive product wanes, an unsuccessful political leader or policy, too, can lose favor. It is only a question of time before people realize that while one path may lead to stagnation, there is another that leads to possibility. When that time comes, the superior concept rises to the top.

In the 50 years since Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba, the United States has primarily advanced protectionist policies. On February 7, 1962, following the expropriation of numerous U.S.-owned properties in Cuba, President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order imposing a trade embargo on Castro’s government. In 1963, following the Cuban Missile Crisis, the first of many travel restrictions went into effect. Most recently, the Helms-Burton Act was enacted in 1996 to penalize foreign companies that do business in Cuba by preventing them from doing business in the U.S.

What effects have these measures had?

The Cuban people live in poverty. They have little or no access to our medicines, products and other essential items. They are silenced by a repressive government that long ago erased their freedom of expression. And yet, while Cubans feel disdain for their leaders, they are equally scornful of the U.S. The trade embargo has crippled their economic opportunities, and the travel ban has kept families apart for decades.

After 50 years and 10 U.S. presidents, isn’t it time for the U.S. to rethink its position? It may help to look at a successful model.

In technology, the Internet is a powerful tool because it is open to everyone. Its emphasis on collaboration and integration allows people from all over the world to freely exchange ideas and solve complex issues.  The Internet’s openness is a strategy that breaks down barriers, physical or not, and empowers the individual who wields its awesome power.

When applied to Cuba, the key to reforming the communist nation is to bombard it with access and information. The U.S. must allow U.S. citizens to travel into Cuba and ignite the flow of commerce. It ought to lift the trade embargo, so that Americans may benefit from the sugar and tobacco industries, and Cubans may have access to medicine, Hollywood, and apple pie. The U.S. also needs to assign a special envoy to Cuba who will oversee this transformation and assure the Cuban people that the U.S. views its neighbor’s success as a priority.

But as with the Internet, these political measures require collaboration. Once the U.S. changes its policies, it will be up to the Cuban people to act. We will provide the tools, but they will have to take the courageous steps toward democracy and capitalism. Will Cubans prefer a repressive government, or one that denies them nothing? Will they side with the local government that rations what little food they have, or follow the global economy that rewards innovation and hard work? Only they can decide that.

Communism erected walls throughout the island and in the people’s minds. We should tear them down as we once did in Berlin. If the U.S. infuses the island with hope, then there is the possibility that the inhabitants will once again dream of something larger than themselves.

After 50 years of stagnation, a different path seems very attractive.

January 27, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Cuba, Economics, Foreign Policy, International Trade, Law, Obama's First 100 Days, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Ex-Gitmo Detainee Joins al-Qaeda in Yemen

Said Ali Al-Shihri, a Saudi man who spent six years in the Guantanamo Bay prison, is now the No. 2 of the Yemen branch of al-Qaeda. Following President Barack Obama’s executive order to close down the Cuban prison within a year, this news only underscores the complexity of the issue.

Several experts have said that the detainees fall into three categories:

1. Those who can be tried in a U.S. court;

2. Those who can be returned to their home country, or a third country, and be tried there; and

3. Some detainees who cannot be tried in the U.S. or returned to their home or third country (the most difficult category)

Given the difficulty in resolving this issue, it’s no surprise that the Democrats and Republicans have conflicting views on yesterday’s executive order.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), who heads the House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence, said that Guantanamo prison should still be closed in spite of today’s report:

What it tells me is that President Obama has to proceed extremely carefully. But there is really no justification and there was no justification for disappearing people in a place that was located offshore of America so it was outside the reach of U.S. law[.]

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, criticized the executive order as it was “very short on specifics.” He went on to say that former Guantanamo detainees are “back on the battlefield. They are attacking American troops.”

Closing the prison is symbolic and essential to our foreign policy objectives. The prison had become a propaganda tool for insurgents throughout the Middle East. Obama also seems to be keenly aware that it will not be easy to adjudicate each and every one of these cases. Some prisoners are very dangerous, but the extent of the evidence against them is razor thin.

Giving himself a year to handle this issue was a prudent move. Obama will have to proceed cautiously, and be aware that what is at stake is allowing more people like Al-Shihri to take to the battlefield against American soldiers.

That would be an unforgivable mistake.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Law, Obama's First 100 Days, Politics, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment