Faced with an economy so fragile that this week Standard & Poor's issued an unprecedented warning to the U.S. to fix it's financial woes or risk it's credit rating; the Obama Administration can ill afford to offend America's Cuban diaspora.
As the joke goes; our neighbour's economy is so bad that a truckload of Americans has been recently caught sneaking "into" Mexico...I digress. Both the economic and political clout of the the Cuban exiles and their descendants now scattered throughout many southern states (and beyond) is sufficient to deliver the State of Florida and to influence the results in many others in American Presidential politics.
So that despite the rhetoric of his first campaign on easing the five decades old hostilities between Cuba and the United-States; it seems at the threshold of his campaign for a second term, Mr. Obama is prepared to reverse course. In Washington though U.S. officials think that they have done enough to elicit a more positive response from Cuba; in reality the easing of travel restrictions for Cuban exiles in America to visit relatives and families on the island is their only concrete achievement. And the exiles in Florida and elsewhere have warmly embraced the change. Hundreds of charter flights shuttle between Miami and Havana each week...but they are loathe to support any measures which would open-up tourism for "other" Americans to the Caribbean Island 90 miles offshore.
In the American capital they say that it's Cuba which has soured the political climate. The current irritant is the detention and 15-year jailing of contractor Alan Gross for spying. The U.S. Government claims that Mr. Gross was in Cuba to expand Internet services for Jewish groups but concedes that he entered the island on a tourist visa that would not permit such work. And, his work was funded under a U.S. Government program aimed at "promoting democracy in Cuba" - A program which the Cubans claim is part of a long term campaign to topple their government.
Overshadowed by the crisis in North Africa, the former Democrat President, Jimmy Carter, spent three days in Havana from March 28 under the auspices of the "Carter Center Foundation" which was founded in 1982, the year after he left the Presidency. Under the guise of various enterprises since Mr. Obama's election, both former Presidents Carter and Bill Clinton have travelled as "de facto" emissaries of the administration. The Carter Center claimed that the ex-President sought to learn about..."new economic policies and the upcoming Party Congress (held last weekend." Though it's widely rumoured that in a private "tete a tete" with President Raul Castro, Carter advised that, for the reasons just outlined, Obama was backing away from the fragile improvements until into his second term of office...Ah; assuming he has one.
Fidel Castro reportedly said on the weekend that it just never occurred to him to step-down as Chair of the Cuban Communist Party after he handed the country's Presidency to his brother Raul five years ago. Be that as it may; yesterday the full transfer of power was (apparently) completed when President Raul also became Communist Party chief. It was Prime-Minister John Diefenbaker who in 1961, primarily because he couldn't stand President Kennedy, refused to follow America's lead and cut-off Cuba. Canadians have had an up-and-down relationship since, but some economic ties particularly pertaining to the tourism industry have remained strong. Recently, each winter about 3/4 of a million Canadian tourists descend on Cuba to inject about $700-Million into the Cuban economy. It's an economic relationship that Cuba can ill afford to jeopardize.
Back then John Diefenbaker believed that with the United-States breaking relations, Canada could fill the gap. In general subsequent (Liberal) Prime Ministers, Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau subscribed to the idea. Pierre Trudeau in particular had a warm personal relationship with Fidel Castro. But with the rapprochement of our shared economic vision to that of the United-States under the free-trade accords of the early 1990's, the political relationship with the island nation has chilled. Tourism aside, our bilateral relations have been "shaded" by the United-States.
And - It seems that when it comes to U.S. - Cuba relations, old habits die hard. Perhaps only for purely political gains in the 2012 Presidential elections down south, both the Americans and the Cubans are on the verge of falling back into old antagonistic ways which will obscure whatever progress had been made and hinder further advances. In the end; we may all lose.