Now it's Cuba's turn

Barack Obama has taken the first step. But it takes two to tango.

 

Raul Castro needs to take to the dance floor too.

Obama announced this week he is unilaterally going to allow annual travel to Cuba for Cuban-Americans (rather than every three years); allow them to send more money to relatives on the island; allow U.S. telecommunications firms to link up with Cuba; and allow more humanitarian aid.

It's a deft move by the president, in that it erodes the U.S. embargo on Cuba without eliminating it, while putting pressure on Cuba to do its part.

While other Latin American leaders are expected to press Obama to end the embargo altogether, Obama knows better. He needs to give Cuban leader Raul Castro time to reciprocate.

This cannot be allowed to be a unilateral end to the embargo. The United States cannot be seen as admitting a near-50-year error -- because it was not. The Castro brothers have been the chief obstacle to normalized relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Instead, they've chosen over the years to use the United States as a rallying cry to remain in power, and to cozy up to the Soviet Union and other Marxist nations, all the while impoverishing their people.

That is completely the Castro brothers' doing, their fault, their choice.

President Obama has skillfully chosen some pretty harmless but genuine gestures in order to get the two countries moving toward normalization. But he needs to be willing to draw a line and go no further until Raul Castro returns the gestures.

Raul Castro "will have to implement measures to address human rights issues in Cuba, particularly the release of persons detained for their political views or actions," writes former Caribbean diplomat Sir Ronald Sanders. "Raul Castro could strengthen Obama's hand by showing willingness to address the human rights issues that do require attention and are an obstacle to progress."

Political prisoners in Cuba are counting on Obama to extract minimal democratic reforms, at least, as a condition of normalized relations.

Nor can the Obama administration turn a blind eye to the long history of human rights violations under Fidel Castro.

A defiant and ungrateful Fidel said Obama's gestures were wholly inadequate, and that Cuba "will never extend its hands to beg."

That's never been the price of ending the embargo. Freedom for political prisoners, fair elections and justice have been.

That they have not materialized in the past 50 years is one man's fault, and he smokes Cuban cigars under his revolutionary hat.

 

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