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Cuba, the Low-Hanging Fruit for Obama, Braces for Change

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I must admit, after 15 years of providing humanitarian aid to Cuba and going hat in hand to Washington, D.C. to apply for annual Department of the Treasury and bi-annual Department of Commerce licenses to "Trade With The Enemy" by sending free medical supplies to pediatric hospitals, I am feeling almost optimistic that things may be approaching denouement.

On April 8th, the Cuban-American National Foundation, for decades an implacable foe of any positive contact with Cuba's government and from whose former ranks a number of despicable policies and politicians arose, released a 14-page report advocating positive interaction with Cuba. While the report's focus was the Cuban people and not the government of Raul Castro, the Foundation now recognizes clearly that the US Trade Embargo of Cuba, set up in 1961, has failed to dislodge the Cuban Government nor change its policies. While claiming its new position is people-centered, the National Foundation would be the first to know that no contacts with the Cuban people are likely to occur without at least tacit approval of the Cuban Government.

The second reason to celebrate April 8th as a signal moment in US-Cuba relations was the 11-count federal indictment of Luis Posada Carriles, who with his partner, the as-yet unindicted Dr. Orlando Bosch, embodies the word "terrorist". Posada Carriles was indicted for orchestrating a sometimes lethal bombing campaign against civilian targets in Havana in the vain hope that havoc caused by such violent acts would lead to civil unrest and regime change in Cuba. He was also indicted for lying to US officials about his background.

An earlier indictment and incarceration of Posada Carriles in Panama for his roles in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner causing the deaths of over 100 people as well as planning the assassination of Fidel Castro while he was attending a regional summit conference led to his escape to the US as supporters in Miami alledgedly bribed outgoing Panamanian president Miriam Moscoso to surreptitiously release him on her last day in office. She, too, escaped to Miami, to avoid her own justice system for arranging Posada Carriles' escape in return for a generous bribe.

That Posada Carriles was not indicted by the Bush Administration after his escape from Panama can be directly traced to the Cuban-American congressional delegation from Florida and its powerful contributors who have given generously to generations of American politicians from both parties. While under indictment in Venezuela and Cuba, prior US administrations have repeatedly refused extradition requests from those governments. Hopefully, the Obama Justice Department will throw the book at Posada Carriles and revisit the role of Dr. Bosch, who freely and publicly admits to hundreds of terrorist acts against Cuba. [see the excellent documentary, "Tell Me Cuba", which features a long and startling interview with Dr. Bosch].

Following the arrival in Washington, D.C. on April 6th of a 6-member delegation from the Congressional Black Caucus which visited the Castro brothers in Havana and reported on their openness to engage the U.S. without preconditions, it's time to move ahead.

Changing U.S. policy towards Cuba is the low-hanging fruit on President Obama's foreign policy agenda. The likelihood of dramatic change in the decades-long impasses in Israel/Palestine, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, India/Pakistan, nuclear disarmament and global warming is very low--but changing our Cuba policy can be accomplished, even unilaterally, at the stroke of a pen...or, bilaterally, with Cuban government involvement. The Win-Win for the U.S. is not just in removing a shameful policy which has grievously harmed many Cubans over a half-century, but in winning the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of people in Latin America who expect that the Obama Administration will put forth a clear-eyed vision of the world without the petty intra-ethnic or tribal disputes that have driven US policy towards Cuba for so long.