U.S. President Barack Obama's upcoming Cuba trip moves the focus of American policy towards the island away from dissidents, according to the Associated Press. After decades of backing dissidents aiming for regime change in Cuba, Obama's visit marks a 180-degree turn, a bet that closer links and warmth will do more for reform on the island than 50 years of hostility have.
Though Obama's trip will include private meetings with dissidents, that will not be the focus of his trip.
A primary feature of the two day trip will be an exhibition game between the Cuban national baseball team and the Tampa Bay Rays, only the second such game played on Cuban soil since the Cold War.
"The fact of the matter is we don't have any expectation that Cuba is going to transform its political system in the near term," deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, one of the architects of Obama's Cuba policy, told the AP. "Even if we got 10 dissidents out of prison, so what? What's going to bring change is having Cubans have more control over their own lives."
The Cuban government is taking pains to communicate that closer relations with the northern "imperial" neighbor doesn't mean leaving ideological differences behind.
Instead the U.S. focus since announced diplomatic détente has been on economic reform, explains the AP.
For its part, the Cuban government is focusing on baseball diplomacy to breakdown economic trade barriers with the U.S., reports the Washington Post. The two governments have been talking privately with Major League Baseball to figure out how to allow Cuban players to come to the United States legally to play in the big leagues.
The two country's shared love of the game could provide momentum to a move that would help cement normalization of relations ahead of a new administration in the U.S.
An interesting note in the AP piece focuses on the disconnect between Cuban dissidents and the general population. "What's clear is that the dissidents have not built up broad-based sympathy in much of the country and are often met with criticism and even anger."
A Washington Post editorial criticizes the focus on baseball diplomacy instead of human rights. Obama's "visit will be an ignoble failure if he does not have a meaningful encounter with the island’s most important human rights activists." The piece notes that repression of protests has not gotten better (and possibly it's worst) in the fifteen months of rapprochement with the U.S. (The AP piece gives more details on the temporary detention policy.)
The Washington Post editorial calls on Obama to cancel his trip if he cannot secure meetings with prominent dissidents.
Though relations between Cuba and Europe have been far less contentious, there too diplomats are leaving behind a focus on human rights and political freedom in favor of cementing cooperation in several areas, reports CNN. Today the E.U. foreign policy chief meet with her Cuban counterpart to finalize a deal that officials have negotiated for the past two years to improve relations.
As the U.S. and Cuba normalize economic relations, American book publishers have signed a petition urging the White House and Congress to end the Cuba trade embargo for books and educational materials, reports the Wall Street Journal. The group, which includes Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, and the Author's Guild, said the embargo runs counter to American ideals of freedom of expression.
Curious aside: Mashable reports on a Florida mayor who plans to build and ride a homemade raft from Cuba to Florida, to experience firsthand the perilous journey undertaken by many Cuban migrants.
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