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A Times Editorial

A welcome shift on Cuba policy

It is truly a new day. A Miami-based organization that represents the interests of Cuban exiles and has for decades used its political muscle to promote isolation and hostility toward Cuba has called for a "new course" for U.S.-Cuba policy.

This encouraging turn of events comes as President Barack Obama signals moves to increase travel and trade between the United States and the island. Now he may have a powerful new ally in adopting more rational U.S.-Cuba relations that will serve America's economic interests and the Cuban people's humanitarian ones.

The Cuban American National Foundation has been a dominant voice on Cuban policy since its founding in the early 1980s. Its former chairman, the late Jorge Mas Canosa, was able to exert disproportionate political influence due to South Florida's large Cuban exile community, a pivotal voting bloc in state and national elections. Even the Miami-area Cuban-American congressional delegation, Republican Reps. Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, built their political careers by toeing the foundation's hard line of opposing interaction with Cuba without major concessions from the Castro government.

But the foundation has been evolving faster in recent years than those House members. With the release of this 14-page proposal, the foundation under chairman Jorge Mas Santos is declaring a break with the past. Rather than focus on sanctions, the foundation now says it wants the Obama administration to help the Cuban people to build a civil society by directing resources to the island.

To accomplish this, the proposal suggests lifting restrictions on how much money can be sent to relatives on the island. That would allow the people of Cuba to meet their basic needs without relying on their government, adding to their independence.

Other policy suggestions include allowing Cuban-American family members to travel to the island as well as encouraging humanitarian travel and cultural and academic exchanges. The foundation says that would provide Cubans with avenues for communication and "objective news and information."

The foundation has not completely embraced reality. It maintained its support for the ineffective 47-year-old trade embargo. But it is asking that there be renewed government-to-government diplomatic efforts and a loosening of some aid restrictions.

The ideas are generally in synch with those the president is already considering. Obama will likely move soon to eliminate restrictions on remittances and travel for relatives, and he has ordered a strategic review of U.S.-Cuba policy with an eye toward more aggressive reforms.

If agricultural trade were opened up, it could be worth more than $1.7 billion, benefiting ports in Tampa and Manatee in particular, which have already shipped phosphate-based animal feed supplements to Cuba.

The foundation's seismic policy shift means that Florida's pandering politicians will come under further pressure to see the light and abandon the hard-line approach that has been a complete failure. They won re-election in November, but the ground continues to shift. The end of the Cold War approach to Cuba will benefit both countries.

A welcome shift on Cuba policy 04/12/09 [Last modified: Sunday, April 12, 2009 4:30am]
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