A story came across the McClatchey wire on Friday night that felt like a punch in the gut.
It read like the President had joined the conditionality caucus (see my previous post).
However, either the reporter misunderstood or her Miami Herald editor had an agenda.
Thanks to Phil Peters on the Cuban Triangle blog we can contrast the actual transcript with the article (texts below).
Ironically, the reporter’s question contains a tantalizing nugget about rumors of long overdue action on non-tourist travel.
The President did not confirm or deny that anything was imminent. But it is clear that the only time frame he was relating non-tourist travel to was progress on practical matters discussed during the migration talks, and possibly, earlier bilateral meetings in Washington. “We’re not there yet” is not a big obstacle given that many of the topics discussed are of mutual interest to resolve.Only “full normalization” was linked to “progress on issues of political liberalization”. Even his comment that, “I dont think it’s going to be happening overnight” seems ltied to full normalization rather than to incremental reforms like non-tourist travel.
I also note that “progress” is not the same as fulfillment and inherently lies in the eye of the beholder. For example “release of political prisoners” could be met at any time, either because a partial release could qualify or because mutual gestures could result in the freedom of all prisoners each side considers political.Although it is not an obstacle to moving forward, I am not a fan of the Presidents softer longer term conditionality. It does embody a-historical presumptuousness, so at variance with Obama’s world view.
Moreover internal governance was certainly not a condition for US normalization with China or Vietnam.But that is an argument for the future. The issue now is to change the parameters of the debate by Presidential authorization of non-tourist travel and Congressional action to end all other restrictions.Lets assume the reporter at least got the rumor right, and post messages of encouragement to the White House Office of Public Engagement web page
Transcript from Presidents meeting with regional reporters posted on The Cuban Triangle
Q: Mr. President…you’ve made some changes in the Cuba policy, and I wanted to know if and when you’d be – there’s rumors about – that you’d be making announcement on changes in purposeful travel – academic, religious.
THE PRESIDENT: […] With respect to Cuba, we have already had government-to-government conversations around a narrow set of issues. Our hope is, is that if we’re seeing progress on those issues, then they can begin to broaden in the ways that you discussed.
We’re not there yet, and as I’ve said before, we think it’s important to see progress on issues of political liberalization, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, release of political prisoners, in order for there to be the full possibility of normalization between our two countries. We’re taking it step by step seeing if, as we change some of the old approaches that we’ve been taking, we are seeing some movement on the Cuban government’s side. And I dont think it’s going to be happening overnight. I think it’s something that will be a work in progress.
WASHINGTON President Barack Obama said Friday that hes open to more overtures to Cuba, such as lifting restrictions on academic travel to the island, but not without signs of changes from the government in Havana.
Were not there yet, he said. We think its important to see progress on issues of political liberalization, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, release of political prisoners in order for there to be the full possibility of normalization between our two countries.
Several members of Congress and groups, including the leading association that promotes student travel to and from the U.S., have urged Obama to remove what they said are restrictive regulations on academic and other purposeful travel to Cuba imposed by President George W. Bush in 2004. The Association of International Educators said this week that study abroad to Cuba has declined precipitously.In April, Obama lifted travel and gift restrictions for those with relatives in Cuba and eased restrictions on U.S. telecommunications firms to do business there.
Last week, the administration resumed talks with Cuban officials on what Obama called a narrow set of issues, chiefly migration.However, Obama said additional steps wont come soon.Were taking it step by step, seeing if, as we change some of the old approaches that weve been taking, we are seeing some movement on the Cuban government side, he said. I dont think its going to be happening overnight. I think its going to be a work in progress.