President Barack Obama made history this week by freeing Cuban-Americans from restrictions on their rights to visit their families on Cuba and to provide them with financial support. While the changes he ordered affect a meaningful but tiny part of the U.S. embargo, it now seems clear that Obama has set into motion forces that will force a decisive shift in this failed and futile policy.
The actions announced by the White House - primarily, eliminating travel and financial restrictions on Cuban-Americans - are deeply humanitarian acts that will reunite Cuban families divided by the policies of George Bush. Cuban families in Miami and Havana reacted to the new policy with expressions of great joy, and rightly so.
If their constituents and kinsmen were elated, Cuban-American Members of Congress, once a proudly solid block, reacted in ways that showed divisions, cracks, and uncertainty. They are reading the handwriting on the wall about where the policy is headed and it showed in their comments and in what they didn't say as well.
While the President made further progress on Cuba conditional on actions in response by Cuba's government, his decisions were seen, domestically and internationally, as an overdue concession that the policy of regime change is over, that the embargo hasn't worked and will never work, and must be taken down.
Some in his administration would prefer the president to stop here and make no additional policy changes beyond allowing Cuban-Americans here to visit their families on the island. But the president cannot stop here. A policy that consists only of Cuban-American travel isn't a Cuba policy and it's not sustainable substantively or politically.
Travel just for Cuban-Americans, which we call "travel for some but not for all," doesn't help any other U.S. citizens, black, white, yellow, brown or red, whose constitutional claim to their travel rights are every bit as legitimate as those of the Cuban-American community. It doesn't help any Afro-Cubans on the island, because only a tiny fraction of Cuban-Americans who could provide financial support to their relatives on Cuba are black. It tells Americans of all backgrounds, businessmen and workers, cultural figures and students, religious groups or tourists of any kind, that they cannot contribute to openness in Cuba or promote American values there.
Travel for some keeps in place a policy whereby Americans can travel to Iran or North Korea but cannot get to Cuba without a license. Travel for some does nothing to please our allies in the region, or to address their concerns about the U.S. trying to deny Cuba's place in the Hemisphere, nor does it speak to the anger of those who admire Cuba's independence and sovereignty and despise the actions we take to diminish those facts.
No president since Lyndon Johnson has spoken with greater clarity and understanding about race in America than Barack Obama. The Senate candidate who told his party's convention "there's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America," the Presidential candidate who said, "I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together," who said that it was seared in his "genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts - that out of many we are truly one," will not, and cannot, rest with a policy that distributes travel rights based on the ethnic make-up of the traveler.
For these reasons and more, we are compelled to believe that more changes will come. That Americans of all backgrounds will be pressed into service as ambassadors of good will by the President. That he will see the value of engaging more and more of us in a two-way conversation with the Cuban people that reflects the reality that we have as much to learn from them as they have to learn from us. That he will see the responses that have already come from Cuba - Raul Castro has said once again, he will sit down with Obama and talking about our political differences - as an inducement to do more. That he will learn from his colleagues at the Summit of the Americas that they want this to be a beginning and not an ending. That he will do more because doing more is so obviously in America's interests.
President Obama doesn't know everything. He doesn't know, for example, that Cubans can now worship freely in their churches. But there is one unmistakable truth about President Barack Obama - he can hear and respond to the most distant calls of history that are otherwise muted to those without his gifts of leadership.
That is why we're convinced that this is just the beginning.
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