Q & A: Obama moves just one step to improving Cuba ties

Tue Apr 14, 2009 12:56am BST

(Reuters) - President Barack Obama opened a crack on Monday in a decades-old U.S. embargo against communist Cuba, allowing U.S. telecommunications firms to start providing service for Cubans and lifting restrictions on family ties to the island.

Although the decisions unveiled by the White House did not eliminate Washington's trade embargo against Cuba set up 47 years ago, they were nevertheless a shift from the Bush administration's previous hard-line approach toward Havana.

Here are some questions and answers about the significance and scope of the measures:

WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF OBAMA'S CUBA MOVES?

They could have a significant impact on the number of Cuban-Americans traveling to the island and the amount of money they send to family members in Cuba. This will help Cubans who receive remittances and may ease to some extent, although not resolve, cash-strapped Cuba's economic problems.

Most of the telecommunications proposals are unlikely to be fully embraced by the Cuban government and therefore may not have much immediate effect. One benefit may be a fresh awakening of interest in Cuba among foreign investors, attracted by the possibility of an eventual end to U.S.-Cuba hostilities and a strengthened Cuban economy.

WHAT IMPACT WILL THEY HAVE ON U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS?

They may not change things too much. Cuba's government views most official American initiatives with suspicion and this will likely be no different.

The Cuban government will be happy at the prospect of more hard currency flowing into the island from the United States, but it may well see most of the telecommunications proposals as a further "subversive" U.S. attempt to impose its western ideology on Cuba.

The White House put the proposals in the context of promoting democracy on the communist-led island, which may sell well in the U.S., but not to the Cuban government.

HOW WILL CUBA RESPOND?

If things stay true to recent form, former leader Fidel Castro could write a column praising Obama for being more humanitarian than former President George W. Bush toward Cuban families, but then say little about the remittances and criticize the U.S. for continuing its attempts to change Cuba.

Beyond that, there may not be much comment. The Cuban government will still be open to talks with the United States, but with no less skepticism than before about the prospects for real change between the two countries.

HOW WILL OBAMA'S MOVES BE VIEWED AT THE UPCOMING SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS, WHERE HE IS EXPECTED TO COME UNDER PRESSURE TO END THE 47-YEAR U.S. TRADE EMBARGO AGAINST CUBA?

Latin America and Caribbean leaders are likely to view the measures as positive, but may feel they are not enough and seek stronger signs that Obama is genuinely set on breaking with the past and improving relations with Cuba.

(Reporting by Jeff Franks; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Todd Eastham)

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