Columns

Obama's Cuban Reform Doesn't Go Nearly Far Enough

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Here's Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado: "It's very sad that the United States has given everything in exchange for nothing." Added U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio: "[This is] a dangerous and desperate attempt by the president to burnish his legacy at the Cuban people's expense." What about U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart? "President Obama is the appeaser-in-chief who is willing to provide unprecedented concessions to a brutal dictatorship."

Wrong from the right.

And these are the words of former President Jimmy Carter: "President Obama has shown such wisdom and also, I think, political courage." And U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee from Oakland, who visited the island last week: "The President has done exactly the right thing. This will benefit both the Cuban people and the American people."

Ha.

Truth is, America will change the name of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana to "embassy." And yeah, a few people will find it easier to visit the island. There might even be more phone lines established. But -- as Yenis Delgado and many other Miamians immediately figured out -- the much-ballyhooed announcement means painfully little.

Even after Obama's decision takes force, American tourism on the island will basically still be outlawed. Close relatives of citizens, academics, religious groups, journalists, and a few others can head for Varadero Beach, but you almost certainly can't; Congress would have to change that. Though Obama noted in his speech that "Americans will be able to use American credit and debit cards on the island," that won't mean much if you can't take a plane or boat across the Florida Straits.

Nor will you be able to buy Cuban cigars or rum in stores. A few travelers to la isla will be allowed to bring home $100 per visit of tobacco and liquor combined. Combined! That's nothing. The Cuban embargo is still in force and would have to be nixed by the Republican-led and anti-Obama Congress. Trade of almost any kind is illegal even though the president promised that American exporters will get better access to Havana's markets.

And even though Obama "authorized increased telecommunications connections between the United States and Cuba," the embargo still generally forbids technology sales. This is particularly significant. Cuba has among the lowest internet connectivity rates in the Western Hemisphere at 5 percent. Unlike China, where connectivity has burgeoned by 20 times since 2000, Cuba has kept its people offline, and this has allowed the Castro brothers to isolate their people and retain control despite grueling poverty.

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Chuck Strouse is the former editor in chief of Miami New Times. He has shared two Pulitzer Prizes and won dozens of other awards. He is an honors graduate of Brown University and has worked at newspapers including the Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times.
Contact: Chuck Strouse