I didn’t hear Obama’s speech to CANF today, because honestly I can’t stand to listen to the guy’s rhetoric but I saw that Ernesto at Penultimos Dias posted a link to the transcript. I was intrigued by Ernesto’s comment:
I, who wouldn’t for the Democrats, think that Obama’s speech is a giant step forward in the political understanding of the Cuban problem (in the North American context).
So I read the speech and I can’t see what the big fuss is about.
1. Hugo Chavez was elected by Venezuelans in 1998, more than two years BEFORE George W. Bush took office. Hugo Chavez has always been a demagogue. To blame Bush for Chavez’ demagoguery is dishonest and weak.
2. Mexico (and the U.S) has profited greatly from NAFTA, which many Democrats seem to be against.
3. Obama and his colleagues have blocked a free trade agreement with Colombia and Obama acknowledges that he voted against CAFTA.
4. Obama says we must be strong advocates for democracy but the leaders in Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua which he criticizes were all democratically elected.
5. Obama says politicians come to Miami every four years and talk tough about Cuba and then do nothing. Well what makes him any different? Why should we believe him? He can’t even keep his position straight. At least McCain has ALWAYS been in favor of the embargo. If anyone is tailoring his message for the audience it’s Obama.
6. Obama says: “My policy toward Cuba will be guided by one word: Libertad. And the road to freedom for all Cubans must begin with justice for Cuba’s political prisoners, the rights of free speech, a free press and freedom of assembly; and it must lead to elections that are free and fair.” Well that sounds a lot like what President Bush said on Wednesday and has been saying for 8 years.
So what’s new about Obama’s approach? Now that he claims to be for the embargo, the only difference between him and McCain on Cuba is that he would remove the travel and remittance restrictions with regards to Cuban-Americans. Is that a huge difference? Is that going to bring democracy to Cuba? Dollar diplomacy, really?
Consider that one can send unlimited sums of money to Cuba through Canadian companies like this one. And consider that you can get to Cuba from the Bahamas, Mexico or almost any other third country and consider that I have NEVER read about ONE CASE in which OFAC fined a Cuban-American for making a family trip to Cuba outside of the current restrictions. Is this the grand policy shift that will make Cuba democratic, legalizing something that people are already doing? Going back to policy that we had just four years ago that didn’t result in Cuban liberty back then either?
Of course not. That’s more of the same political gamesmanship Obama accuses his opponent of.
I take away something else completely different from the speech. Obama articulates well that Latin America is a mess. I believe he is misguided however in placing the blame at George W. Bush’s feet. It strikes me that he seems to think that if the U.S. had acted differently during the last eight years then the demagogues in Latin America wouldn’t have been elected. That’s a little too much for me. Latin Americans have a long tradition of electing or otherwise backing caudillos and anti-American demagogues regardless of who is in power in the U.S. And once Chavez took over in Venezuela and began greasing the skids for his buddies in other countries with petrodollars there’s little the U.S. could do to save Latin Americans from themselves.
UPDATE: A friend just reminded me that Obama’s Latin America adviser is Greg Craig. If that sounds familiar, it should. This was Bill Clinton’s attorney that represented Juan Miguel Gonzalez during the Elian tragedy.