Politics & Government

Clinton once criticized Obama on Cuba, now supports him

Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state and potential frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, said in a statement released Thursday that she supports President Barack Obama’s change in relations with Cuba, saying she thinks exposing Cuba to the outside world will help its people.

“Despite good intentions, our decades-long policy of isolation has only strengthened the Castro regime's grip on power,” Clinton said. “As I have said, the best way to bring change to Cuba is to expose its people to the values, information, and material comforts of the outside world. The goal of increased U.S. engagement in the days and years ahead should be to encourage real and lasting reforms for the Cuban people. And the other nations of the Americas should join us in this effort.”

But in 2008, when she was running against Obama for president, Clinton criticized him for suggesting he would meet with Cuba's then newly elected leader, Raul Castro.

“We need to engage with our allies in Latin America and Europe to encourage Cuba on to the right path,”' Clinton said in a 2008 speech at George Washington University. ``But we simply cannot legitimize rogue regimes or weaken American prestige by impulsively agreeing to presidential level talks that have no preconditions. It may sound good but it doesn't meet the real world test of foreign policy.''

At a debate, Obama had said he would be willing to meet with Cuba's new leader ''without preconditions,'' but 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.

On Wednesday, the White House announced that the U.S. will restore diplomatic relations with Cuba and expand travel and trade in the most sweeping changes to U.S.-Cuba policy in 50 years after Obama and Castro agreed to the outlines of a deal that freed American contractor Alan Gross and sent three Cubans convicted of spying back to Cuba. The two leaders spoke earlier this week.

Clinton’s statement on Thursday was released by the Obama administration, which has taken the somewhat unusual step of sending out multiple statements of support of the shift in policy by various groups and individuals.

Clinton, who served as Obama’s secretary of state in his first term, said she pushed for the release of Gross, who had been held in Cuba for five years. “It is great news that Alan is finally home with his family, where he belongs,” she said.

Clinton’s statement wasn’t a surprise. She has said made similar things in recent years.

In her memoir, Hard Choices, she wrote she asked Obama to consider lifting the embargo.

“Near the end of my tenure I recommended to President Obama that he take another look at our embargo,” Clinton wrote.” “It wasn’t achieving its goals and it was holding back our broader agenda across Latin America. After twenty years of observing and dealing with the U.S.-Cuba relationship, I thought we should shift the onus onto the Castros to explain why they remained undemocratic and abusive.”

This summer, Clinton went further while speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“I think we should advocate for the end of the embargo,” she said. “We should advocate for normalizing relations and see what they do.”