Sunday, November 23, 2008

Without embargo, Cuba's leaders lose leverage

Without embargo, Cuba's leaders lose leverage
Leaders would have to look elsewhere to place blame
November 23, 2008

Havana - For nearly half a century, the punishing American trade embargo
served Cuba's communist state in the propaganda war.

There are ubiquitous roadside billboards denouncing it. Almost every
official speech and publication included references to how the tiny
Caribbean nation has stood up to the empire's "genocidal blockade."

Now, though, Barack Obama's campaign pledge to ease restrictions on
remittances and family travel to Cuba could set the stage for the
removal of harsher sanctions, including the nearly 47-year-old embargo,
leaving Cuba's leaders without the perennial scapegoat for the island's
woes. And Cuban officials are fretting over it, in a surprisingly public

"We have before us the immense challenge of how to face a new chapter in
the cultural struggle against the enemy," Armando Hart, a 78-year-old
Communist Party ideologue, wrote recently in the party newspaper Granma.

Allowing Cuban-Americans to visit more frequently and send more money to
relatives on the island would signal "a new chapter in the ideological
war between the Cuban revolution and imperialism," Hart wrote.

Obama has vowed to work toward thawing the ice with Cuba and infuriated
hard-line exiles in South Florida by offering to meet with Raul Castro
without preconditions. Critics of the Castro government want to continue
to isolate Cuba until political prisoners are freed and multiparty
elections scheduled.

Analysts differ on how much the next administration can improve
relations, because the harsh sanctions were written into law a dozen
years ago and require acts of Congress to change. But many agree that a
softening of the American position threatens the state's tight control
over Cuban society.

"Anything an Obama administration does that allows greater contact
between the U.S. and Cuba is going to cut away at one of the central
political strategies that has kept the government in power," said Daniel
Erikson, a Cuba expert at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington and
author of The Cuba Wars.

The influx of Cuban- American visitors and their cash on the island
could augur more substantial political change.

"A key question is, will the freedom to travel to Cuba be extended to
all American citizens?" Rafael Hernandez, a political scientist and
editor of the quarterly Temas, asked. "That question could unleash a
process of change that won't stop until the blockade is finished.",0,2724119.story

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