By Pooja Bachani
Published: Monday, November 9, 2009
The Daily Free Press, Boston University
The United States must lift the embargo and travel restrictions enacted in 1962 in order for Cuba to move forward, Cuban and American political leaders said.
Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., who commented by phone, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senior Advisor Fulton Armstrong and Carl Meacham, senior foreign policy advisor to Sen. Richard Lugar discussed the fate of the U.S.-Cuba relationship at the School of Management Friday in a panel.
The panel was scheduled to include Senator John Kerry, D-Mass., who was not able to make it due to what Boston University international relations professor Susan Eckstein called “other commitments.” The attendance after the announcement dropped from about 80 to about 50 people and eventually dwindled to about 20.
“We would like to see a liberalization of the people to people exchange, but the current administration is responding very slowly,” Meacham said. “The process mirrors how air is let out of a balloon, very slowly.”
During former President George Bush’s second term, “travel regulations where tightened significantly, with additional restrictions on family visits and educational travel,” according to a Congressional Research Service for Congress report.
“Travel helps open the mind of people to new ideas and it is a great place to start,” Meacham said.
College of Arts and Sciences senior Cari Brennen said she agreed.
“The travel policy is a great place to start building better relations between U.S. and Cuba,” Brennen said. “I would love to go to Cuba from an academic prospective and as a tourist.”
“Lifting the travel restrictions will serve as a catalyst for deeper and further U.S. engagement and will accelerate the engagement process,” Delahunt said.
Delahunt said Congress is moving towards a new way to approach U.S. relations with Cuba.
“We expect a hearing of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives by Howard Berman where he will announce his support for legislation against the ban,” Delahunt said.
Delahunt attributes the slow pace to the Cold War mentality that still plagues Congress.
“I believe we are clearly heading towards a dramatically new relationship with Cuba,” Delahunt said. “We want to reconsider and normalize this relationship.”
Former Canadian Ambassador to Cuba Mark Entwistle said the U.S.-Cuba relationship has never been normal because of the overpowering trade relationship. When American businesses enter Cuba, they enter in a specific context that is loaded with layered history.
“American business leaders need to understand to pursue economic relations without touching on political terms because business in Cuba is highly politicized,” Entwistle said.
Though Delahunt labels himself as “cautiously optimistic” about dramatic policy change, Meacham does not see it in the near future as the Obama administration is facing many different issues at once.
“The challenges that the Obama administration is facing are pretty monumental,” Meacham said. “We have unemployment over 10 percent, health care, immigration and climate change.”
However, Meacham said once the issue is at the top of the agenda in the House, the Senate will follow.
“It is unlikely that the Senate will move towards reform in the short term, but once you get the House on board, the Senate will follow shortly hereafter,” Meacham said.
CAS senior Kelyn Rodriguez said she appreciated the panelists perspective, despite Kerry’s absence.
“I like that they mentioned economics and that they were trying to be unbiased and objective,” she said. “It’s understandable that he was busy, but I’m grateful Delahunt had the decency to call.”