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EU Leads U.S. on Cuban Policy

By Risa Grais-Targow

Is the European Union paving the way for a new U.S. policy on Cuba? Cuba recently accepted an invitation from the EU to engage in a formal political dialogue - the first step towards normalizing relations between Cuba and the EU's 27 member states.

In June, the EU lifted diplomatic sanctions that had been in place against Cuba since 2003. The sanctions had been mostly symbolic, with the EU continuing to trade with and invest in Cuba. The latest announcement suggests that the European-Cuban relationship will continue to evolve, much to the displeasure of the U.S. State Department.

In stark contrast to the EU's efforts to engage with Cuba, the U.S. embargo on Cuba, implemented in 1962, remains a fixture in American foreign policy. Yet even U.S. policy softened in the wake of Hurricane Ike, which left Cuba severely damaged. The U.S. offered Cuba $6.3 million in aid, but the Castro regime refused. President Raul Castro has asked instead for a temporary lifting of the embargo in order to purchase construction and relief materials. His request has been denied.

U.S. and EU goals in regards to Cuba are theoretically the same: to promote democratic change. Yet the policy approaches are entirely opposite, with the EU leadership opting for engagement and the U.S. for isolation of Cuba. This suggests that the EU is moving towards a foreign policy independent of the U.S., and more closely aligned with the international community. The UN General Assembly has voted on the issue for sixteen consecutive years, with last year's vote tallying 184-4 in favor of lifting the embargo.

After more than four decades of the embargo, and no democratic change, a revision of U.S.-Cuba policy is long overdue. Though a complete reversal in U.S. policy is unlikely, the EU's efforts with Cuba may help to shape the stance of the next U.S. administration. Republican candidate John McCain maintains a hard-line stance on the embargo, but Democratic candidate Barack Obama has promised to open diplomatic dialogue with the island if elected. In the event of a democratic sweep of the White House and Senate, some easing or reversal of the 46-year embargo could occur.

Regardless of the election results, the next U.S. administration would do well to follow the European Union's lead and revise U.S. policy toward Cuba. Simply hewing to past, failed policies will further the growing distance between European and U.S. foreign policy.

Risa Grais-Targow is a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Bologna Center in Italy.

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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Johns Hopkins University.

Comments (7)

dummy4peace Author Profile Page:

If we maintain such a tight relationship with a communist China, why can't we get closer to one of our closest neighbors, a small communist Cuba? What are we waiting for? Like many other things, I can't understand this one, either.

MPatalinjug Author Profile Page:

Yonkers, New York
15 October 2008

For far too long, U.S. policy-making toward Cuba has been effectively held hostage by Cuban exiles in Miami.

It is refreshing to note that Europe is now taking steps to normalize relations with Cuba. For one thing, there are not enough Cuban exiles in Europe--if there are any at all--who possess the same political clout as those in Miami over U.S. policy.

I do not think that secretary of state Condoleezza Rice will recommend to George W. Bush in the twilight days of this administration that the United States do as Europe plans to do, which is to normalize relations with Cuba.

But in the event that Barack Obama is elected President come November 4th, the likelihood of the U.S. normalizing relations with Cuba--after Europe does--is a very real possibility. It is the sane thing to do.

Mariano Patalinjug

msjn1 Author Profile Page:

If we can have relations with China , Viet Nam and Albania we should have them with Cuba. Our policy has failed as Castro has remmained in power longer than any American party. If you want to blame someone, blame the Bacardi fammily who supports the embargo because they don't want Cuban rum in the US. Havana Club, made in their old factory, is a lot better than Bacardi.

racerboy100 Author Profile Page:

formal political dialogue may be the first step towards normalizing 'political' relations - but as you mentioned, the diplomatic sanctions have been completely symbolic for some time.

Europeans regularly travel to Cuba for vacation - it is immensely popular for tourists, with the added benefit of a distinct lack of Americans.

coqui44 Author Profile Page:

The only reason we continue with the embargo is because we have a very vocal and organized Cuban population. They vote. Oh yes, they vote.

Europeans don't have that problem.

ZZim Author Profile Page:

I support lifting the embargo. There's no reason why we should continue it.

And Risa, I know your editors love to see politically charged phrases like "hewing to past, failed policies" but it really isn't necessary. Just write about the pros and cons.

It might also benefited your article to note that EU policy toward Cuba exerts no influence on US policy toward Cuba and there's no reason why we should care what the Europeans do.

Arminius Author Profile Page:

I have a four-day scenario which may bring Cuba, probably sooner than later, back into the world. Note well - read thru Day One completely before you make a judgment.

Day One:
Send 12 B2 bombers over Cuba. And they will drop...NOT bombs! No way! They will drop dollar bills and candy bars. Dropping candy bars was perfected in the Berlin Blockade back in 1948, they used hankies as parachutes. Worked fine. The bombers will not be detected until they open their bomb bays, for a few minutes, and by the time any Cuban planes are scrambled, our planes will be invisible again and gone.

Day Two:
Cuba starts to rage. The president of the United States (it must be Obama) makes a televised speech saying that the Cuban embargo has been dropped.

Day Three:
While Cuba tries to figure out what is going on, America extends a hand, thru European embassies there, that we wish to have immediate discussions leading to full relations.

Day Four:
We extend the Ultimate Big Carrot to Cuba: Baseball. Yes, I said baseball! Cuba is nuts about that sport, and Castro himself is a fan. We tell them that we want two more major league expansion teams, one in Mexico, and one in Cuba. We will finance. I guarantee that the entire population of Cuba will have a party that would spawn an epic poem. Cuba will soon morph into something like Vietnam or China. Problem solved.

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