Cuba again dominates Obama-McCain matchup
Barack Obama appeared before the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami (AP photo) today and, like Republican John McCain a few days earlier, tried to appeal to the important voting bloc. But Obama found himself defending a more open stance on relations with Cuba.
"My policy toward Cuba will be guided by one word: Libertad. And the road to freedom for all Cubans must begin with justice for Cuba’s political prisoners, the rights of free speech, a free press and freedom of assembly; and it must lead to elections that are free and fair.
"Now let me be clear: John McCain’s been going around the country talking about how much I want to meet with Raul Castro, as if I’m looking for a social gathering. That’s never what I’ve said, and John McCain knows it.
"After eight years of the disastrous policies of George Bush, it is time to pursue direct diplomacy, with friend and foe alike, without preconditions. There will be careful preparation. We will set a clear agenda. And as President, I would be willing to lead that diplomacy at a time and place of my choosing, but only when we have an opportunity to advance the interests of the United States, and to advance the cause of freedom for the Cuban people.
But the McCain campaign again reminded Obama of his earlier words regarding Cuba and meeting with its leader. “By changing his position in front of Cuban-Americans to support the embargo that he used to oppose, Barack Obama is engaging in the same political expediency that he railed against in his speech. This same tired type of political flexibility shows Barack Obama’s weak leadership on an important issue."
The campaign cited a 2003 questionnaire in which Obama said he did not support the Helms-Burton Act codifying the Cuban embargo. "This legislation only makes adversaries of our allies and perpetuates our go-it-alone foreign policy," Obama said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Also, in a 2004 speech at Southern Illinois University, Obama was quoted as saying: "The Cuban embargo has failed to provide the sorts of rising standards of living and has squeezed the innocents in Cuba, and utterly failed in the effort to overthrow Castro...so it's time for us to acknowledge that that particular policy has failed."
McCain got an assist from House Speaker Marco Rubio, the first Cuban-American to attain the position. In a statement, Rubio said: "I support the current U.S. policy against Cuba , including the travel ban for most Americans. I also recognize that some people may respectfully disagree with my support of these limitations on Americans visiting Cuba.
"In my view, however, there should be no disagreement with the fact that under no circumstances should the U.S. negotiate the future of Cuba with Raul and Fidel Castro. The Castros do not govern officially over a foreign state; such a view would be naïve and, to many, even offensive. They do not govern, they dictate, and the result is tyranny because they have never had the consent of, nor have they been elected by, the people they control.
"Negotiation with the Castros would violate that most precious of all American beliefs that the only power government can possess is the power that the people consent to bestow.
"The United States is the great single beacon of hope for Cuba. We must ask: "What type of message do we send if an American President sits across a table from a tyrant like Raul Castro?"