This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.
Considering the hoopla that preceded it, President Barack Obama's decision to relax the rules governing travel and cash transfers to Cuba might seem to some like a daring new policy initiative – but it isn't. Mr. Obama is making a marginal change in U.S. policy to signal that he is open to fundamental revision, but only if the Cuban government reciprocates – and that has always been the real stumbling block.
Mr. Obama's action is a commendable step, to be sure, but it needs to be put in perspective. In removing travel and gift restrictions for Cuban Americans, the president is reverting to rules that prevailed before a change imposed by President Bill Clinton. That came after the Cuban Air Force, in a cowardly act, shot down two unarmed Brothers to the Rescue planes in 1996, killing four innocent men. President George W. Bush tightened the restrictions after Fidel Castro cracked down on dissidents in 2003, sending scores into prisons where most still remain.
This history and the strong feelings that surround Cuban policy ensure that any change in policy, no matter how slight, carries political and policy risks for any U.S. president. Mr. Obama has made a calculated decision that the move will be largely welcomed by Cuban Americans who want to see the U.S. government get out of the business of regulating how often they see their families.
This fulfills an Obama campaign pledge, and it may give Cubans living under the yoke of the Castro brothers more freedom to act independently, but it hardly amounts to a significant change as far as most Americans are concerned. They are still banned from visiting Cuba; and the trade embargo is still in place.
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