Washington, D.C.- News that the Obama administration is “changing its relationship with the people of Cuba” is due to the leftward shift in Latin America that has increasingly isolated the United States politically in the region, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said today. The Obama administration announced the changes following Cuba’s release of USAID contractor Alan Gross and an unnamed “intelligence asset,” and the U.S. release of the three remaining members of the “Cuban Five” who were imprisoned for espionage after working to disrupt plots by Cuban exile extremists based in the U.S. Cuba is also reportedly releasing 53 other political prisoners.
“This historic shift is a direct result of the United States’ increasing isolation in the region,” Weisbrot said. “Relations between Latin America and the Obama administration have been the worst probably of any U.S. administration in decades. This will help, but new sanctions against Venezuela will also raise questions in the hemisphere about whether this is a change in direction or merely a giving up on a strategy that has failed for more than 50 years.
“Because of the historic transition in Latin America over the past 15 years, with left governments elected in most of the region, basically the rules and norms were changed for the whole hemisphere. Various Latin American governments – and not just those on the left – have been increasingly vocal in recent years that the status quo cannot stand, and that Cuba must be treated as an equal, and welcomed into fora such as the Summit of the Americas,” Weisbrot noted.
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“Washington’s Cuba policy is being pulled into the 21st Century thanks to this regional shift.”
Weisbrot added, however: “The U.S. has pumped tens of millions into efforts to undermine left-of-center governments in Latin America, including Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Brazil. The just-approved appropriations bill [PDF] includes increased funding for these purposes, and the White House fact sheet on the new Cuba policy makes clear that so-called ‘democracy promotion’ will continue to be a major component. So these activities will continue to harm relations with Latin America. The U.S. still does not have full diplomatic relations with Bolivia and Venezuela.”
Weisbrot noted that the move was also made possible by an apparent willingness by the Obama administration to no longer allow Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez take the lead on Cuba policy. Menendez has vocally opposed the reforms announced today, and is considered a hard-liner on U.S.-Latin America policy.
Weisbrot pointed to the formation of international groupings such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) that include Cuba but exclude the United States, and the growing influence and pushback from regional organizations such as UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations), as more evidence of regional change that have made U.S. policy untenable. “Obama’s decision is also a clear defeat for the Cuban-exile extremists who have dominated U.S. policy toward the region for decades, more recently with their neo-conservative allies.”
Regarding the easing of the embargo, and Obama administration recommendations that it be reconsidered by Congress, Weisbrot said: “The U.S. can no longer ignore international law and the opinion of the entire world. This is a victory for the rule of law in the world of international relations.”