Commentary: Changes in U.S.-Cuba relationship will come slowly

April 23, 2009 

This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.

The momentum coming out of the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad has created a buzz about what comes next in U.S.-Cuba relations, with much speculation focusing on a prisoner swap. Such talk not only is premature but ill-considered. Trading criminals convicted in an open and fair judicial process for dissidents whose activities would not be considered a crime in any democratic society is not a fair deal.

Indeed, no single action is likely to produce a big change in U.S.-Cuba relations overnight, but that does not foreclose the possibility of improvement. At this point, however, neither side knows what is possible, and that is the candid conversation that the administration of President Barack Obama must have with Cuban leaders before it embarks on any concrete negotiation. If the way to progress appears open, it should be guided by the following considerations:

• Avoid preconditions. Getting started is hard enough without making peremptory demands. The normalization of relations with Vietnam, it should be recalled, was achieved without calling for changes in the country's political or economic system.

• Focus on confidence-building measures at the outset. The Obama administration has already eased travel and gift restrictions for Americans with relatives on the island. Cuba can reciprocate by reducing the amount of money it pockets from remittances and thus denies to the intended recipients.

• Don't expect too much. Improving diplomatic relations would be a major accomplishment, but real normalization is a process that will require years, if not decades to complete.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Miami Herald.

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