The right deal on Cuba

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL• OPINION • APRIL 20, 2009, 10:23 P.M. ET The Right Deal on Cuba The U.S. should end the embargo. Latin America should press on human rightsBy JORGE G. CASTAÑEDADespite the rhetoric and the photo-ops, the Trinidad Summit of the Americas postponed any real discussion of U.S. policy toward Cuba. In the U.S., the extremist embargo has been a sop to the right-wing and Florida electorate. But in countries like Mexico, Chile and Brazil, the Latin policy of never taking Havana to task for its atrocious human-rights record is a sop to the domestic left.The question of what to do about the embargo has once again cornered an American president. If President Barack Obama lifts the embargo unilaterally, he will send a message to the Castros and the rest of Latin America that human rights and democracy are not his bailiwick. Furthermore, he lacks the votes in the Senate to do so, unless he obtains an explicit Cuban quid pro quo, which Raúl Castro cannot grant him, especially with his brother back in charge.Conversely, if Mr. Obama limits change to the recently announced freer flow of remittances and family visits to the island, Democrats in the House, Latin American leaders, and the Castros will remain unsatisfied. And if he insists on political change as a precondition for lifting the embargo, Mr. Obama would be pursuing the policy that his last 10 predecessors have fruitlessly followed.There might be a way to square the circle. It begins with a unilateral end to the embargo: Nothing is expected from Cuba. But in exchange for eliminating the embargo, key Latin American players would be expected to commit to actively seeking a normalization process between Washington and Havana, and to forcing Cuba to establish representative democracy and respect for human rights.As democrats who experienced authoritarian rule and sought international support in their struggle against it, leaders like Brazilian President Lula da Silva, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, and Mexican President Felipe Calderón have been incredibly cynical and irresponsible about Cuba. Mr. Calderón and Ms. Bachelet have forsaken their commitment to democracy and human rights in order to accommodate the left wing. Mr. da Silva, despite having been jailed by the military dictatorship in the early 1980s, has pursued the traditional Brazilian policy of avoiding controversy. By nudging the Latin leaders toward a principled stance, Mr. Obama would turn the tables.This policy would give the Cubans what they say they want: an unconditional end to the embargo, the beginning of a negotiation process, and perhaps even access to international financial institutions’ funds. The Latin American leaders would get a major concession from the new administration on a highly symbolic issue. And human-rights defenders in Latin America and elsewhere would see their concerns regarding free elections, freedom of the press, freedom of association, and the liberation of political prisoners addressed as a demand from Cuba’s friends — not as an imposition from Washington.Mr. Obama would look great, since U.S. policy would shift in exchange for Latin leaders’ dedication to principles like democracy and human rights that he and they espouse. A clear commitment from Latin leaders to a normalization that would not follow the Vietnamese course (economic reform with no political change) would be a major foreign policy victory for Mr. Obama.Would Brasilia, Santiago and Mexico City go along? Perhaps not, but nothing is lost by trying. All Mr. Obama would be asking is for moral consistency on the part of Latin leaders — to uphold the values enshrined in their own constitutions and treaties.Would the Cubans buy into this plan? While Fidel lives, it’s unlikely. If they don’t, Mr. Obama will have relinquished what many wrongly consider America’s only leverage with nothing to show for it. And the Latin Americans could always wash their hands of the affair, arguing they tried their best.But on the other hand, the pressure on Mr. Obama to unilaterally lift the embargo may become irresistible anyway. By shaming Latin leaders to stand up for their professed ideals, no one could pretend that the blame for the conflict still lies in the north. And in itself, the end to the embargo — unlike what occurred in Vietnam and China — may force Cuba to open its society.Mr. Castañeda, a professor at New York University and fellow at the New America Foundation, was Mexico’s foreign minister from 2000 to 2003.

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