Saturday, February 23, 2008

McCain, Obama trade fire over Cuba

Posted on Sat, Feb. 23, 2008 Kansas City Stat

McClatchy Newspapers
Barack Obama's offer to meet face to face with Fidel Castro's successor is "dangerously naive," Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Friday, testing out a potential fall campaign strategy to cast the Democratic presidential candidate as too inexperienced for the world stage.

Obama, who made the comment at a Thursday night debate with rival Hillary Clinton, rapidly returned fire, saying McCain "would give us four more years of the same Bush-McCain policies that have failed U.S. interests and the Cuban people for the last 50 years."

Though neither man has wrapped up his party's nomination, the volleys over Cuba policy provide a glimpse into what is shaping up to be their lines of attack: McCain will present himself as an experienced, steady hand and criticize Obama's lack of foreign policy experience; Obama, if the Democratic nominee, will present himself as a fresh start and McCain as a return to the Bush years.

"This is the thrust and parry we'll hear throughout the campaign," said David Johnson, former executive director of the Republican Party of Florida. "Obama's going to try to tie McCain to the less popular parts of the Bush administration ... and McCain is going to say, `This is most important job in the world and he doesn't have the relevant experience to do it.' "

Asked at Thursday's debate in Texas whether he'd meet with Raul Castro, his brother's likely successor, Obama said he would. "I do think that it's important for the United States not just to talk to its friends, but also to talk to its enemies," he said. "That's where diplomacy makes the biggest difference."

Though Obama said he would be willing to meet with the Cuban leader "without preconditions," he added that the encounter would happen only after both sides came up with an agenda that included human rights, the release of political prisoners and freedom of the press.

Clinton took a more cautious approach, saying she wouldn't meet with Fidel Castro's successor without "evidence that change was happening."

McCain noted Friday that Obama, as a U.S. Senate candidate in 2003, supported the "normalization of relations with Fidel Castro." Obama said Thursday night he supports "the eventual normalization."

"Obama said that as president he'd meet with the imprisoned island's new leader `without preconditions,"' McCain said. "So Raul Castro gets an audience with an American president, and all the prestige such a meeting confers, without having to release political prisoners, allow free media, political parties, and labor unions, or schedule internationally monitored free elections."

"Meet, talk and hope may be a sound approach in a state legislature," McCain said in a dig at Obama's experience as a state senator before his 2004 Senate election. "But it is dangerously naive in international diplomacy where the oppressed look to America for hope and adversaries wish us ill."

A McCain adviser said his campaign didn't criticize Clinton's remarks because she didn't say she'd meet with Castro with no restrictions.

Obama didn't retreat Friday, saying in an e-mail that he'd call for an "immediate change in policy to allow for unlimited family travel and remittances to the island." President Bush tightened restrictions on family travel and remittances in 2004, limiting Cuban-Americans to visiting their relatives on the island once every three years and capping remittances at $100 per month.

"In November, the American people will have a clear choice: a new direction versus more war in Iraq, more not talking to leaders we don't like and more of a Cuba policy that has failed to achieve freedom for the Cuban people," Obama said. "I am confident that the American people will choose the promise of the future over the failed policies and predictable political attacks of the past."

The remarks on meeting with Castro could be troublesome for Cuban Democrats, many of whom support lifting restrictions on travel and remittances but stop short of advocating talks with Cuban leaders unless democratic changes occur on the island.

The state Republican Party used the remarks to fire a broadside at the three Democrats challenging South Florida's three Republican Cuban-American members of Congress.

One of the challengers, former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, who wants to unseat Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, said he disagrees with Obama.

"Unless the Castros show a willingness to change the way they conduct business, release political prisoners, allow more participation of the Cuban people, we should not sit down with them," said Martinez, who has endorsed Clinton.

"If Obama becomes the official nominee I'm pretty sure he will have modifications to some of his positions," Martinez said.

My comment:

Actually if Obama is the nominee, Raul Martinez will no longer be bound to support Hillary Clinton's position which is very similar to the Bush Administration's.

Obama needs to also speak out for non-tourist travel. At a time when Cuba is engaged in wide ranging discussions of economic and social reform, world affairs councils, religious and humanitarian organizations, short term study programs, cultural groups, sports teams, etc. should be going to Cuba as they did before 2004.

It doesn't mean much economically, but it does mean a diversity of Americans can make their own judgment about the process underway in Cuba, as well as help create a bilateral atmosphere favorable to reform. Of course that is exactly what the hard liners in Miami are afraid of.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Clinton vs. Obama on Cuba in Austin Debate

Univision’s Jorge RAMOS: Thank you very much (SPEAKING IN SPANISH). Thank you so much for being with us, and let me start with a little news. After nearly half a century in office, Fidel Castro resigned as the head of the Cuban government. Ninety miles off the coast of the United States, we might have a new opportunity. The question for you, Senator Clinton: Would you be willing to sit down with Raul Castro, or whoever leads the Cuban dictatorship when you take office at least just once, to get a measure of the man?

CLINTON: Well, Jorge, I hope we have an opportunity. The people of Cuba deserve to have a democracy. And this gives the Cuban government, under Raul Castro, a chance to change direction from the one that was set for 50 years by his brother.

I’m going to be looking for some of those changes: releasing political prisoner, ending some of the oppressive practices on the press, opening up the economy. Of course the United States stands ready. And, as president, I would be ready to reach out and work with a new Cuban government, once it demonstrated that it truly was going to change that direction.

I want to bring the region together, our European allies who have influence with Cuba, to try to push for some of those changes, and to make it very clear that, if Cuba moves toward democracy and freedom for its people, the United States will welcome that.

And as president, I would look for opportunities to try to make that happen and to create the momentum that might eventually lead to a presidential visit. But there has to be evidence that indeed the changes are real; that they are taking place; and that the Cuban people will finally be given an opportunity to have their future determined by themselves.

RAMOS: Very simply, would you meet with him or not, with Raul Castro?

CLINTON: I would not meet with him until there was evidence that change was happening, because I think it’s important that they demonstrate clearly that they are committed to change the direction. Then I think, you know, something like diplomatic encounters and negotiations over specifics could take place.

But we’ve had this conversation before, Senator Obama and myself, and I believe that we should have full diplomatic engagement where appropriate. But a presidential visit should not be offered and given without some evidence that it will demonstrate the kind of progress that is in our interest, and in this case, in the interests of the Cuban people.

BROWN: Senator Obama, just to follow up, you had said in a previous CNN debate that you would meet with the leaders of Cuban, Iran, North Korea, among others, so presumably you would be willing to meet with the new leader of Cuba.

OBAMA: That’s correct. Now, keep in mind that the starting point for our policy in Cuba should be the liberty of the Cuban people. And I think we recognize that that liberty has not existed throughout the Castro regime. And we now have an opportunity to potentially change the relationship between the United States and Cuba after over half a century.

I would meet without preconditions, although Senator Clinton is right that there has to be preparation. It is very important for us to make sure that there was an agenda, and on that agenda was human rights, releasing of political prisoners, opening up the press. And that preparation might take some time. But I do think that it’s important for the United States not just to talk to its friends, but also to talk to its enemies. In fact, that’s where diplomacy makes the biggest difference. (APPLAUSE)

One other thing that I’ve said, as a show of good faith that we’re interested in pursuing potentially a new relationship, what I’ve called for is a loosening of the restrictions on remittances from family members to the people of Cuba, as well as travel restrictions for family members who want to visit their family members in Cuba. And I think that initiating that change in policy as a start and then suggesting that an agenda get set up is something that could be useful, but I would not normalize relations until we started seeing some of the progress that Senator Clinton was talking about.

BROWN: But that’s different from your position back in 2003. You called U.S. policy toward Cuba a miserable failure, and you supported normalizing relations. So you’ve backtracked now…

OBAMA: I support the eventual normalization. And it’s absolutely true that I think our policy has been a failure. I mean, the fact is, is that during my entire lifetime, and Senator Clinton’s entire lifetime, you essentially have seen a Cuba that has been isolated, but has not made progress when it comes to the issues of political rights and personal freedoms that are so important to the people of Cuba. So I think that we have to shift policy. I think our goal has to be ultimately normalization. But that’s going to happen in steps. And the first step, as I said, is changing our rules with respect to remittances and with respect to travel.

And then I think it is important for us to have the direct contact, not just in Cuba, but I think this principle applies generally. I recall what John F. Kennedy once said, that we should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate. And this moment, this opportunity when Fidel Castro has finally stepped down, I think, is one that we should try to take advantage of. (APPLAUSE)

BROWN: Senator Clinton, do you want a quick response?

CLINTON: Well, I agree, absolutely, that we should be willing to have diplomatic negotiations and processes with anyone. I’ve been a strong advocate of opening up such a diplomatic process with Iran, for a number of years. Because I think we should look for ways that we can possibly move countries that are adversarial to us, you know, toward the world community. It’s in our interests. It’s in the interests of the people in countries that, frankly, are oppressed, like Cuba, like Iran.

But there has been this difference between us over when and whether the president should offer a meeting, without preconditions, with those with whom we do not have diplomatic relations. And it should be part of a process, but I don’t think it should be offered in the beginning. Because I think that undermines the capacity for us to actually take the measure of somebody like Raul Castro or Ahmadinejad and others.

And, as President Kennedy said, he wouldn’t be afraid to negotiate, but he would expect there to be a lot of preparatory work done, to find out exactly what we would get out of it. And therefore, I do think we should be eliminating the policy of the Bush administration, which has been very narrowly defined, and frankly against our interests, because we have failed to reach out to countries, we have alienated our friends, and we have emboldened our enemies.

So I would get back to very vigorous diplomacy, and I would use bipartisan diplomacy. I would ask emissaries from both political parties to represent me and our country, because I want to send a very clear message to the rest of the world that the era of unilateralism, preemption and arrogance of the Bush administration is over and we’re going to… (APPLAUSE)

BROWN: Very briefly and then we’re going to move on. (APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: I think, as I said before, preparation is actually absolutely critical in any meeting. And I think it is absolutely true that either of us would step back from some of the Bush unilateralism that’s caused so much damage. But I do think it is important precisely because the Bush administration has done so much damage to American foreign relations that the president take a more active role in diplomacy than might have been true 20 or 30 years ago.

Because the problem is, if we think that meeting with the president is a privilege that has to be earned, I think that reinforces the sense that we stand above the rest of the world at this point in time. And I think that it’s important for us in undoing the damage that has been done over the last seven years, for the president to be willing to take that extra step.

That is the kind of step that I would like to take as president of the United States. (APPLAUSE)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Obama on Latin America

Senator Barack Obama
TC Williams High School
Alexandria, VA
Feb 10, 2008


I don't actually agree with Chavez's policies and how he's dealing with his people. I think he has consolidated power. I think he has strong despotic tendencies. I think that he has been using oil revenue to stir up trouble against the United States. So, he is not a leader that I admire.
But we can't, our Latin America policy can not just be "I oppose Castro" and "I oppose Chavez" and that's the end of it. Because we've been neglecting, (applause) we've been neglecting Latin America even in our own back yard. We've been so obssessed with Iraq and so obsessed with the Middle East.

In the meantime, China has been sending diplomats and economic development specialists and building roads all throughout, all throughout, Latin America. They are securing trade agreements and contracts. And we ignore Latin America at our own peril.

So, I intend to visit the countries of Latin America. I intend to put together a alliance for progress in the 21st century. We are going to strengthen trade ties. We are going to talk about human rights. (applause) We are going to talk about human rights and we are going to talk about freedom of the press and we are going to talk about political prisoners in Cuba.

But we're also going to recognize that over time what we want to develop is the kind of relationship of mutual dignity, mutual respect. We don't have, the notion that Latin American countries are a junior partner to the United States, that is outmoded. We need to be full partners with those countries, show them the respect that they deserve.

Thanks to Center for Democracy in the Americas. See video here.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Fareed Zakaria Compares Candidates on Cuba; McAuliff response

Fareed Zakaria

The Wrong Experience

Clinton has immense experience and is an attractive candidate. But she is terrified to act on her beliefs.

Feb 11, 2008 Issue of Newsweek

The Democratic Party's two remaining candidates have become so cordial toward one another that you could easily believe there are few substantive differences between them. At last Thursday's debate, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton heartily agreed on most issues and added that they were having a wonderful time chatting with one another. The Republican race, by contrast, is bubbling over with tensions and personal animosities. Watch any encounter between John McCain and Mitt Romney and you can almost see the smoke steaming out of each one's ears.

This Democratic amity is not just about making up. The party is far more united than in the past. And yet there are important distinctions between Obama and Clinton—and not simply in the broad, almost gassy talk of inspiration versus experience. They come to today's challenges from very different places.

Consider Cuba policy. Almost anyone who is being honest will acknowledge that America's approach toward Cuba is brain dead. No one even remembers why we've imposed a total embargo on the country. A policy that was put into place at the height of the cold war, when fears of Soviet missiles and communist penetration were at their peak, has been maintained even though the threat that prompted it has collapsed. What exactly are we afraid this moth-eaten island will do to America today?

Our policy has the additional burden of having failed, by any measure. We've been trying to force regime change in Cuba for 45 years. Instead Fidel Castro is now the longest-lived head of government in the world. Every tightening of the Cuban embargo has resulted in further repression and isolation. And yet the only changes George W. Bush has made to our Cuba policy have been to impose more restrictions on travel and trade, a cruel and futile doubling down on a bad bet.

Obama has advocated easing the Bush-imposed ban on Cuban-Americans visiting the island and sending money to their relatives. He makes a broader case for a new Cuba policy, arguing that capitalism, trade and travel will help break the regime's stranglehold on the country and help open things up.

Clinton immediately disagreed, firmly supporting the current policy. This places her in the strange position of arguing, in effect, that her husband's Cuba policy was not hard-line enough. But this is really not the best way to understand Clinton's position. In all probability, she actually agrees with Obama's stand. She is just calculating that it would anger Cuban-Americans in Florida and New Jersey.

This is the problem with Hillary Clinton. She is highly intelligent, has real experience and is an attractive candidate. But she is terrified to act on her beliefs. In fact, she seems so conditioned by what she sees as political constraints that one can barely tell where her beliefs begin and where those constraints end.

Partly, this is a generational difference. Bill and Hillary Clinton grew up in an era of Republican dominance. For much of the last 30 years, the Republican Party has been the party of ideas (a point made repeatedly by Daniel Patrick Moynihan), and Ronald Reagan was seen by much of the country to have rescued America from malaise and retreat. The Clintons' careers have been shaped by the belief that for a Democrat to succeed, he or she had to work within this conservative ideological framework. Otherwise one would be pilloried for being weak on national security, partial to taxes and big government and out of touch with Middle America's social values.

For 30 years this has been the right bet. It's why Bill Clinton was the only successful national Democratic politician in that period. But is it still the right wager? Obama has grown up in a different landscape—with vastly different geopolitics, economics and culture. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have been the defining political figures of the recent past. Conservatism has lost its monopoly role. As a result, the new generation is not defensive about its beliefs, nor does it feel trapped into the old categories like hawks versus doves and markets versus taxes.

This is not naiveté. Obama's position on Cuba is not all hope. Most of the older generation of Cuban-Americans are hard-line Republicans anyway, so it's probably pointless courting them. And the younger ones—under 45 or so—are far less wedded to the punitive approach and symbolic battles of the past. So Obama is taking a calculated risk that the time is right.

Cuba policy is a microcosm for this difference in attitudes. Obama has spoken in favor of a proposal—made by Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn—that in order to get the world more serious about nuclear nonproliferation, the United States should begin to fulfill its end of the treaty and reduce its own nuclear arsenal. Again, for all I know, Hillary Clinton agrees with this approach. But she won't say so. Her long years of experience—in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s—warn her against such audacity. But the world has changed so much—the cold war is a distant memory, capitalism has spread across the world, new threats come not from states but small bands of people, unilateralism is discredited—that perhaps it is time for America to change as well.


My comment

Finally someone noticed the big contradiction between Clinton and Obama on Cuba.

In a contest devoted to change and restoring America's standing in the world, more attention is deserved for a policy that is as damaging as Iraq in international opinion--as reflected for the sixteen year at the United Nations where the vote last October to condemn our unilateral embargo grew to 184 to 4.

Barack Obama has pledged unrestricted family travel and remittances, not just "easing" Bush restrictions of one visit every three years. He also has called for negotiations with Raul Castro without preconditions.

Hillary Clinton is Bush light on Cuba, seeming to take her cue from Sen. Bob Menendez and her Miami based Cuban American sister in law.Both candidates would do well to listen to the 2/3 of Americans who support normalization of relations and the right to travel to Cuba.

As a first step let's get back to the non-tourist people to people exchanges that Bill Clinton allowed and neither candidate has so far mentioned.

John McAuliff
Executive Director
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Dobbs Ferry, NY