Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama discussed his views on U.S. policy towards Cuba in an op-ed piece in Tuesday’s Miami Herald. The interesting thing about Obama’s views is that they represent a break from the conventional thinking in both the Republican and Democratic parties that Cuba that the embargo must remain in place until Castro is out of power.

“It is a tragedy that, just 90 miles from our shores, there exists a society where such freedom and opportunity are kept out of reach by a government that clings to discredited ideology and authoritarian control. A democratic opening in Cuba is, and should be, the foremost objective of our policy. We need a clear strategy to achieve it — one that takes some limited steps now to spread the message of freedom on the island, but preserves our ability to bargain on behalf of democracy with a post-Fidel government,” Obama wrote.

He then wrote about how the U.S. must help the Cuban people to become less dependant on Castro. “The primary means we have of encouraging positive change in Cuba today is to help the Cuban people become less dependent on the Castro regime in fundamental ways. U.S. policy must be built around empowering the Cuban people, who ultimately hold the destiny of Cuba in their hands. The United States has a critical interest in seeing Cuba join the roster of stable and economically vibrant democracies in the Western Hemisphere. Such a development would bring us important security and economic benefits, and it would allow for new cooperation on migration, counter-narcotics and other issues.”

Obama discussed what he viewed as the Bush administration’s blunder of tightening travel restrictions to Cuba for Cuban Americans. “This is particularly true of the administration’s decision to restrict the ability of Cuban Americans to visit and send money to their relatives in Cuba. This is both a humanitarian and a strategic issue. That decision has not only had a profoundly negative impact on the welfare of the Cuban people. It has also made them more dependent on the Castro regime and isolated them from the transformative message carried there by Cuban Americans…Cuban-American connections to family in Cuba are not only a basic right in humanitarian terms, but also our best tool for helping to foster the beginnings of grass-roots democracy on the island. Accordingly, I will grant Cuban Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittances to the island.”

Obama also urged a normalization of relations with Cuba through diplomacy. “Accordingly, I will use aggressive and principled diplomacy to send an important message: If a post-Fidel government begins opening Cuba to democratic change, the United States (the president working with Congress) is prepared to take steps to normalize relations and ease the embargo that has governed relations between our countries for the last five decades. That message coming from my administration in bilateral talks would be the best means of promoting Cuban freedom. To refuse to do so would substitute posturing for serious policy — and we have seen too much of that in other areas over the past six years.”

In contrast to Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and all the Republican candidates support the current policies. Let’s be honest, the only reason the embargo is still in place is because a loud and vocal group of older Cuban-Americans advocate it. The political problem for Obama is that he is opening himself up to more charges from the Clinton campaign that he is naïve and inexperienced. I am of the opinion that the embargo is an old Cold War relic that has long out lived its usefulness. Most importantly, those who support it appear blind to the facts that it hasn’t worked, and it only hurts the Cuban people.

If anything, the embargo allowed Castro to further consolidate his power. What Obama is advocating is policy for the future, but he has to run as a candidate in the political realities of today. Most of the other Democratic candidates have taken a middle ground position on Cuba. While Obama wants to frame his and Clinton’s positions as a choice between the status quo and change, I am going to guess that the Clinton camp will use this difference as an example of her experience. It wouldn’t surprise me if Obama’s forward thinking ended up being used against him.

Read the full op-ed here

Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at  His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at 

Jason can also be heard every Sunday at 7:00 pm (ET) as the host of The Political Universe Radio Show at  


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