Carlos Alberto Montaner at PostGlobal

Carlos Alberto Montaner

Madrid, Spain

Carlos Alberto Montaner is a Cuban-born writer, journalist, and former professor. He is one of the most influential and widely-read columnists in the Spanish-language media, syndicated in dozens of publications in Latin America, Spain and the United States. He is also vice president of the Liberal International, a London-based federation devoted to the defense of democratic values and the promotion of the market economy. He has written more than twenty books, including Journey to the Heart of Cuba; How and Why Communism Disappeared; Liberty, the Key to Prosperity; and the novels A Dog's World and 1898: The Plot. He is now based in Madrid, Spain. Close.

Carlos Alberto Montaner

Madrid, Spain

Carlos Alberto Montaner is a Cuban-born writer, journalist, and former professor. He is one of the most influential and widely-read columnists in the Spanish-language media, syndicated in dozens of publications in Latin America, Spain and the United States. more »

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Obama: Be Patient on Cuba

The Current Discussion: The U.S. will lift travel restrictions on Cuba, but leave the larger trade embargo in place. Is that a smart move? Does it go far enough? Too far?

President Obama has done well by eliminating the restrictions on Cuban-Americans' travel to the island and on the remittances they can send. It is an intelligent political gesture that indicates that Washington would look with interest on a response from the Cuban government that contained some measure of aperture.

Those restrictions had been imposed upon the Cuban dictatorship in 2004 after the repressive spasm of spring 2003, when 75 peaceful dissidents were imprisoned and sentenced to long terms (up to 28 years) for crimes such as lending forbidden books, writing accounts about the Cuban reality in foreign newspapers, and requesting a referendum to ascertain the political preferences of society.

In reality, the purpose of those punishments was to amass a large group of hostages who could be traded for five Cuban spies caught by the FBI while they acted on American soil and sentenced to prison in U.S. courtrooms.

Should President Obama now eliminate the rest of the commercial restrictions imposed upon U.S. society in its relations with Cuba? The so-called "embargo" today is limited to two fundamental aspects: the access to credit, and Americans' practical inability to travel to Cuba, given that the Treasury Department forbids them to spend money in that "enemy territory."

Obviously, those two aspects of the embargo keep the Cuban government from gaining access to a considerable amount of resources that would help it to consolidate its position. On the other hand, the United States is Cuba's principal supplier of food, selling the island more than $700 million a year in agricultural products. It is also the island's main source of humanitarian aid, all of it from private sources, and is the only country in the world that has not imposed a visa embargo on the island. While the other world nations give pitifully few visas to the Cubans, the United States grants them 20,000 visas per year, while a more-or-less similar number of Cubans arrive illegally in the U.S. by sea or through various borders and manage to legitimize their situation after about a year of living in the country.

That means that, when it comes to Cuba, no other country in the world may give lessons in humanity to the United States. It also means that the prudent thing for the Obama administration to do now is to sit back patiently to see how things develop in Cuba, before determining what Washington should do.

Within the power structure in Cuba, there are forces that favor profound changes in the political and economic fields. That explains the recent ouster of none less than Carlos Lage, the nation's top vice president; Felipe Pérez Roque, the foreign minister; and Fernando Remírez de Estenoz, the Communist Party's official in charge of international relations.

Practically everyone in Cuban society is aware that they are in an "end of regime" stage. Fidel Castro is a very ill 82-year-old man. His younger brother is 77 and known to be in less-than-fine health. Although they have made an effort, the Castro brothers have not managed to organize the transfer of authority, and we know that very few people still think that the system copied from the Soviet Union of the 1960s and 70s is a permanent way to organize the state and society. That system is condemned to disappear in Cuba, as it has disappeared everywhere else.

That is why President Obama should not, at this moment, lift the embargo. He would be sending the worst possible message to the Cuban reformers. He would be saying to them: "It makes no difference if the dictatorship doesn't change. The free world accepts the regime just as it is, without the need for a change of system." Exactly the type of message the small Stalinist minority needs to tell the Cubans: "See how right we were? There is nothing to change."

When would it be worthwhile for President Obama to make a new gesture?

First, after Fidel, the principal obstacle to the country's natural political evolution, disappears. Second, maybe after the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party, to be held in late 2009, so long as there are clear signs that the reformers have been heard. Washington should not take another step until it sees what happens in Cuba after those two episodes. To do so would be a costly imprudence for the Cubans.

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