The U.S. embargo guessing game

By Ron Howell

One of the biggest questions about Cuba is whether the United States will lift its embargo against the country anytime soon.

Here’s a quick answer. If by soon one means before the November presidential election, the answer is a loud no.

But one acknowledged Cuba specialist, Wayne Smith, says he believes the embargo could be lifted within two or three years.

Smith praised President Barack Obama for easing restrictions on travel to Cuba over the past year or so and for making it easier for Cuban Americans to send money to family members in the country.

Smith added that the problem with expecting Obama to go the distance and simply lift the embargo is this: “It’s that the administration has taken such a position in favor of keeping the embargo that now it’s difficult to back away.”

Smith, who was once the chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana and is now a professor at Johns Hopkins University, spoke in a telephone interview with Journalism Without Walls.

Why did Obama speak in favor of keeping the embargo if he really wants to loosen or even end it?

Perhaps it’s because Obama is a political being and he committed himself to essence of the embargo out of fears of a right-wing backlash from Cubans in Florida and elsewhere.

Smith thinks Obama would eventually lift the embargo if he is reelected.

If Obama in fact received a thumbs-up from voters on a second term, we might expect the complete erasure of the 50-year-old embargo “in several years, maybe two or three more years,” Smith said.

One thing is sure, he declared. It’s not going to happen before the elections. That would be too politically risky.

But here’s another point. Maybe the embargo will be even tougher in a few years.

While incumbents like Obama have a certain advantage as they run for reelection, there is no guarantee he will win in November. And this week’s Republican debate showed some of the candidates are hardline vis a vis Cuba, and they would not entertain lifting the embargo at all. If anything, some indicated they might toughen it.

Newt Gingrich, for one, went as far as to say he might try to “overthrow the regime” of the Castros. Gingrich said he would use “every asset” he could bring to bear against Cuba.

This prompted a vigorous reaction from candidate Ron Paul, who has staked out a lonely non-confrontational posture regarding international affairs.

“I would do pretty much the opposite,” Paul said of Gingrich’s threats. “I do not like the isolationism of not talking to people . . . the Cold War is over.

“I think we propped up Castro for 40 some years because we put these sanctions. And he always used us as the scapegoat . . . I think it’s time to quit this isolation business of not talking to people . . . I think it’s not 1962 anymore and we don’t have to use force and intimidation and overthrow of governments. I don’t think that’s going to work.”

From what he said, one might assume that Paul would lift the embargo.

Maybe even more quickly than Obama.