Obama's Cold War with Cuba: the fuel Fidel needed

President Obama, by saying this week that he's looking for a transformation in Cuba before 'fully engaging,' ignores actual changes in Cuba and hurts US-Cuban relations, argues guest blogger Anya Landau French.

President Barack Obama said Wednesday he's looking for a transformation on the island before "fully engaging" Cuba. His remarks actually complete something of a transformation for Mr. Obama, who went from saying this on one campaign trail, to saying this on the next campaign trail, to now saying stuff like this:

"Everywhere else in the world you've been seeing the democratization movement pressing forward . . . The time has come for the same thing to happen in Cuba."

"What we've tried to do is send a signal is that we are open to a new relationship with Cuba if the Cuban government starts taking the proper steps . . . "

Such as?

"Following through on releasing political prisoners . . . "

Just not the ones released in 2010 and 2011 as a result of talks with the Catholic Church and the Spanish government?

"We're prepared to show flexibility and not be stuck in a Cold War mentality dating back to when I was born . . . " but, " . . . So far we haven't seen the kind of genuine transformation of spirit inside of Cuba that would justify us eliminating the embargo."

These words may sound good to those couple of percentage points of Cuban American swing voters in Florida, but statements like these reveal a White House either oblivious of or uninterested in the actual changes that are taking place in Cuba. These sorts of backhanded offers to talk actually telegraph to the Cubans that we are NOT, in fact, ready to talk at all. (Or, certainly not in public.) These statements were never intended as a message for Havana. They're for Little Havana.

And, not surprisingly, the willful ignorance and arrogance emanating once again from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue - wasn't it Obama who said it was time to "turn the page on the arrogance in Washington"? - drew a predictable response from Havana. Fidel Castro, who was silent for several months until just this week, appeared on the scene to do what he loves best: defend his country from El Imperio.

"How nice! How intelligent!," Castro said. "So much kindness has not permitted him still to understand that 50 years of blockade and of crimes against our homeland have not been able to break our people."

"Many things will change in Cuba, but they will change by our own effort and in spite of the United States. Maybe before that empire falls," he wrote.

It's all so ridiculous. (And the ridiculousness isn't confined to Washington; there's plenty in Havana too.) It kind of makes you want to laugh. And then to cry. How in the world did we get our wheel stuck in this maddening, little ditch? Why do successive American presidents throw credibility aside in so transparent a fashion? Of course, we know why.

As Wayne Smith, former Chief of the US Interests Section in Havana from 1979-1982 (ah, yes, more than a generation ago, when there was hope the madness was coming to an end), has often said, Cuba just seems to have the same effect on American presidents that the moon has on werewolves.

--- Anya Landau French blogs for The Havana Note, a a project of the "US-Cuba Policy Initiative,” directed by Ms. Landau French, at the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program.

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