U.S. Recruits Europe and Latin America to Press Cuba to Open Up

U.S. Recruits Europe and Latin America to Press Cuba to Open Up
A taxi driver transports a car full of passengers in Havana, Cuba, Feb. 17, 2015 (AP photo by Ramon Espinosa).

U.S. President Barack Obama defends his opening to Cuba as a more effective way to bring democracy to the island than his 10 predecessors’ policy of isolation. Engagement, he argued in December, “chips away at this hermetically sealed society, and I believe offers the best prospect then of leading to greater freedom, greater self-determination on the part of the Cuban people.” This rationale has been echoed by administration officials at every opportunity since then, along with the hope that Washington’s new approach will enable it to recruit European and Latin American allies to push Havana on human rights and democracy.

One of the key drivers that led to the opening with Cuba was the nearly universal opposition of U.S. allies to Washington's old policy of hostility and economic denial. In 1996, the European Union adopted the Common Position on Cuba, making normal relations with the island conditional on democratic reforms. But individual EU members had gradually re-established diplomatic and economic ties, and last year the EU began discussions with Havana to replace the Common Position with new accords on economic and political cooperation.

Latin America, meanwhile, was in full-scale rebellion against longstanding U.S. policy, which was increasingly getting in the way of Washington’s other important regional goals. A senior Obama administration official called the old policy “an albatross” hindering hemispheric cooperation not just on Cuba, but on all issues. For example, at the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Colombia in 2012, the official said, “Instead of talking about the things that we were focused on—exports, counter-narcotics, citizen security—we spent a lot of time talking about U.S.-Cuba policy.”

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