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President Obama Discusses Cuba Policy at State Of The Union


In last night’s State of the Union address President Obama discussed his controversial normalization of relations with Cuba at length. Possibly the most surprising development is that he asked Congress directly to lift the fifty-year-old trade embargo. He started off by explaining his thinking on why it is time for a change in Cuban foreign policy. He said,

“In Cuba, we are ending a policy that was long past its expiration date. When what you’re doing doesn’t work for fifty years, it’s time to try something new. Our shift in Cuba policy has the potential to end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere; removes a phony excuse for restrictions in Cuba; stands up for democratic values; and extends the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.”

Though his executive actions will go a long way to normalizing relations and establishing diplomatic ties, allowing easier travel, and the first trickle of financial transaction only Congress can lift the trade embargo. The president also acknowledged the role played by Pope Francis in the current thaw in relations. To further show his resolve he had as his personal guest Alan Gross, the USAID worker who was imprisoned by the Castro government for several years. Gross was released as part of a prisoner swap with some Cuban agents that we had in our custody. The president welcomed Gross home to a standing ovation from Congress.

But opponents of Obama’s actions in Cuba also invited their own guests as a form of protest. Senator Marco Rubio, a vocal critic of the change in policy, had as his guest Rosa Maria Paya who is the daughter of Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya. Paya died under mysterious circumstances in a traffic accident in 2012. Many believe he was actually killed by the regime for his vocal opposition. The truth is that Obama will have to fight an uphill battle to get many of his provisions passed, particularly the appointment of an ambassador and financing from Congress for an embassy in Havana. As we speak a delegation from the state department headed by Roberta Jacobson is arriving in Havana as a first step to the establishing of an embassy. It will be interesting to see if Obama is able to back up his rhetoric with actual movement on this issue.

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