HAVANA - US President-elect Barack Obama has a positive image among most Cubans,
who are hopeful regarding his promises of loosening some restrictions towards
the island, although the government-controlled media here have refrained from
commenting on the future of relations between the two countries.
The Democratic candidate who will become the first African-American president
of the United States on Jan. 20 may also become the first to sit down to talks
with the Cuban government after nearly half a century of conflict.
During his campaign, Obama pledged to lift travel restrictions so that Cuban-Americans
can visit their families in Cuba, and to eliminate caps on the remittances they
can send back to their families -- measures that were adopted in 2004 by the
Republican administration of President George W. Bush.
Obama also said he was willing to pursue direct diplomacy with the Cuban government,
"I hope that with him as president, relations will be eased, and there
won't be so many restrictions," a 62-year-old woman told IPS, after
complaining that in November 2007 she was refused a visa for the second time,
on the argument that she posed a risk to US interests.
"My parents and siblings have lived over there for years, and I never
had any problem visiting them before. But for the Bush administration I'm
a danger, and I can't see my mother, who is 92 years old and sick and wants
to see me," she added, asking not to be identified "to avoid further
A shift in Washington's policy towards Cuba would have several advantages
for Cuban society, in the view of Reverend Raymundo García, director
of the Christian Center for Reflection and Dialogue, one of the few civil society
organizations in Cuba that regularly analyses human rights questions.
Obama's offer "to be open to dialogue with Cuba…is a watershed
for his country and his government, because it would require a dismantling of
what has been called an embargo based on democracy and human rights questions,"
The protestant minister said he had no doubts that a new attitude on the part
of Washington would immediately contribute to bringing about closer ties between
families divided between the two countries and would help the Cuban economy
as a result of increased travel and remittances. "God willing, this will
be the start of an end to the mutual recriminations, accusations and spitefulness
that have caused so much harm," he said.
Academics who spoke to IPS, however, said they do not foresee significant short-term
economic benefits, especially because of the financial crisis in the United
States, which has already translated into a drop in remittances towards the
rest of the Americas, as well as a reduction in travel due to soaring air ticket
"Without a doubt, the situation could improve in the next few months,
and that would be a positive signal, but for now, Obama's priority is to
improve the US economy and rebuild the nation's prestige," economy
Professor Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva told IPS.
He also said, however, that he has no doubts that if the US Congress passes
laws favorable to Cuba, Obama will not veto them. "He wouldn't have
any reason to do so, and besides, the hard-line Cuban-Americans are Republicans,
to whom Obama is not beholden."
Luis René Fernández, assistant director of the University of
Havana's Center for the Study of the Hemisphere and the United States (CEHSEU),
agrees that Cuba is not "a priority" on Washington's agenda,
but said a new stance towards this Caribbean island nation could "be important
for the world's perception of the United States."
"That is, small changes in the policy towards Cuba, a degree of flexibility,
an openness to diplomatic negotiations, however limited, could help improve
something crucial to US politics: the country's image, which has severely
deteriorated after eight years of an administration that has been deeply unpopular
at a global level," said Fernández.
In the analyst's view, a more pragmatic Cuba policy could provide "collateral
benefits" to the government of Obama, who will take office only a few weeks
after the Cuban government headed by Raúl Castro celebrates the 50th
anniversary of the Cuban revolution, on Jan. 1, 2009.
Up to now, only former president Fidel Castro has publicly referred to the
two candidates who faced off in Tuesday's elections. In his most recent
column, he described Obama as "more intelligent, educated and level-headed"
than his Republican rival, John McCain.
"Obama came to these elections with the backing of the dominant class
in the United States," Ramón Sánchez-Parodi Montoto, international
relations analyst and former head of the Cuban Interests Section in the United
States wrote in an article Wednesday in Granma, the official newspaper of Cuba's
governing Communist Party.
Opinions varied among dissident groups in Cuba. "I don't believe
in proposals for dialogue with this government," Berta Soler, a member
of the Ladies in White, a group of wives and daughters of imprisoned dissidents
who were accused of "conspiring" with the United States, told IPS.
By contrast, Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo said that for Cuba, the change that
lies ahead in Washington could open up a new horizon of "infinite"
possibilities and "would also be an opportunity for enriching dialogue
with Latin America." Menoyo is the head of Cuban Change, which he describes
as "an independent opposition organization."
(Inter Press Service)