New Opportunities in Cuba

Dr. Wayne S. Smith spoke to the staff of the Embassy of Denmark at a brown bag lunch in January. Dr. Smith is a senior fellow of the Cuba Project at the Center for International Policy. Until last year, he was a visiting professor of Latin American Studies and director of the University of Havana exchange program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. He is a former senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. During his twenty-five years with the State Department (1957-82), Smith served as executive secretary of President Kennedy’s Latin American Task Force and chief of mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. In addition, he served in Argentina, Brazil and the Soviet Union.

In an interview on the 25th of February, Dr. Smith remarked on the progress that has been made so far. The delegations met in week 9. However, the remarks made by Fidel Castro that he mistrusts the United States has seemingly slowed down the speed of progress and there now seems less enthusiasm on the part of the Cubans.

Despite this apparent set back, the United States could go forward with taking Cuba off the terrorist list. The Department of State has indicated that it is doing so. However, Dr. Smith opined that it could be done with the stroke of a pen. There is no reason to delay. Just this act would have great meaning and would not need Congressional approval. It might even convince Fidel Castro to re-evaluate his mistrustful reaction.

In other words, according to Dr. Smith, the US should do those things that are easy first and go on to the harder issues (Guantanamo, lifting the embargo, etc.). It has been decades since Cuba was sending troops to Angola or aiding communist movements in Latin America. There is no logical reason to continue to keep Cuba on the terrorist list.

Furthermore, easing travel restrictions could be speeded up. This could well be in the interest of the US as well. As we have seen when the wall came down in 1989, the more engagement the West has with countries and their people, the closer we become and the easier it is for governments to find common ground.

Foreign business has suffered unnecessarily under the Helms-Burton Act for many years. If the US cannot lift the embargo and repeal the Helms-Burton Act because of Congressional reticence, the Administration could, at least, no longer enforce Helms-Burton (or more loosely interpret it). Doing so would remove a lingering thorn in the side of the European Community and the United States’ neighbors in North, South and Central America.

Dr. Smith ended by saying, “I once said that ‘Cuba has the same effect on the American government that the full moon has on werewolves’. I applaud President Obama for halting the knee jerk reaction to Cuba that has dictated policy for fifty years. It is long overdue and time for the US government to go beyond its emotional reaction to Cuba and take action that will mean more engagement between our peoples and businesses.”

Interview by Mary Paul Smith Jespersen

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