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Change Converging on Cuba?

U.S. policy toward Cuba has changed only at the margins during the last ten administrations to occupy the White House, but the Communist Caribbean island continues to command Washington's attention. Now Cuba watchers are contemplating whether President-elect Barack Obama's mantra of "change" might translate to significant revisions in U.S. policy toward Havana, and perhaps an eventual thaw in the long-stagnant U.S.-Cuba relationship.

In a significant break from the strategy of the Bush administration, Obama has signaled a willingness to have direct talks with Cuban President Raul Castro. On the campaign trail, he created a small stir when he broke with the status quo on U.S.-Cuba policy, stating that under certain conditionshe would repeal restrictions on Cuban-American travel and remittances to Cuba--and, importantly, he was able to do so while retaining moderate popularity (NYT) among the politically significant bloc of Cuban Americans in Florida's Dade County. Obama's apparent openness has been partly reciprocated by Raul Castro, who said he would be open to talks, while adding that Cuba would have goals of its own in any such negotiations. "Perhaps we could meet at Guantánamo," Raul told actor Sean Penn in an interview in October. "We could send [Obama] home with the American flag that waves over Guantánamo Bay."

It's unclear precisely what U.S.-Cuba talks would accomplish, even if they do take place. The centerpiece of U.S. policy toward Cuba, the economic embargo, cannot be repealed without congressional action. Critics of the embargo hold prominent positions in Congress, including the chairs of the Senate Finance Committee,and the House Foreign Affairs Committee (CQ). But many Cuba experts, including Daniel Erikson of the Inter-American Dialogue, say Congress is unlikely to lift the embargo. The six Cuban-Americans in...

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