Monday, December 08, 2008

Change is in the air. Or is it?

As you would expect, there has been a frenzy of media speculation lately about what will happen to relations between the US and the Castro regime when president-elect Barrack Obama is sworn in next month.

The general consensus in much of the commentary is that after nearly 50 years of mutual mistrust, etc, etc, Mr Obama wants a “fresh start”.

In other words, it is widely expected that his administration will unilaterally lift travel restrictions to Cuba, organise some sort of sit down meeting with one or both of the Castro brothers and then maybe even lift the US commercial embargo that has been in place for more than 40 years.

Well, I beg to differ.

It seems to me that those who think change is in the air – mainly American entrepreneurs who believe there is money to be made in Cuba and the usual academic suspects in Washington – have obviously not being paying attention.

While it is true that Mr Obama has hinted at an opening with Havana, his advisers have also made it clear that for relations to improve significantly, the Castro regime will have to make at least a token gesture towards the US, such as agreeing to release political prisoners.

Not a big ask, to be sure. Just a minor gesture of goodwill fromt he regime. But you can bet your bottom dollar the Cubans won’t play ball.

This much was made clear on Friday by none other than Fidel Castro, the semi-retired dictator who wrote in one of his “reflections” that Mr Obama must be “reminded that the carrot-and-stick theory cannot be applied in our country."

And yesterday, the Cuban foreign minister, Felipe Perez Roque, warned against any great expectations about change, telling reporters that Cuba was ready to “normalise relations” with the US but only “on the basis of respect for our rights as a people” ... including the right by the regime to imprison dissidents and anyone else who fails to do as they are told.

In other words, the standard the standard Communist Party line used by the regime since, well, since 1961.


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