Fidel Castro, Cuba's long-sitting head of state, has stepped down. But despite new calls to end the punitive U.S. embargo against the country -- which nearly every U.N. member nation condemns -- U.S. policy towards Cuba is unlikely to change anytime soon (Bush has said as much). Why?
Florida is a highly coveted swing state. More than 1 million Cuban immigrants and Cuban-Americans live in South Florida, and they wield political clout beyond their numbers. This is an election year. And as with every election year, candidates on both sides are catering to the Cuban vote (with one notable exception -- see below).
Salon.com did a helpful run-down on the position of U.S. presidential vis-a-vis Cuba last month:
John McCain: McCain is a longtime advocate of the embargo and would like to boost U.S. spending on the anti-Castro TV and Radio Martí programs. Recently, he has spent a great deal of time and energy in Florida attempting to remind voters of this commitment. In a 2007 interview, he vowed not to use military action to end Castro's reign. But he also stated that only upon Castro's death would he offer a "package of trade, of assistance, of economic development, of assistance in democratization." Recently, McCain's supporters have also been championing him to Florida's Cuban-American leaders. [...]
Hillary Clinton: Clinton supports a continuation of the United States' current policy toward Cuba. [...] As documented by Kirk Nielsen, Clinton has essentially endorsed the policy of the Cuban Liberty Council, a Republican-leaning advocacy group that supports the Bush administration's policy of keeping Cuba as isolated as possible, although there is virtually no chance that the CLC would endorse her. She also recently voted to perpetuate TV Martí.
So who would depart from the current Bush strategy?
Barack Obama: In August of last year, Obama caused a stir among both Florida's Cuban voters and the foreign policy community when he published an Op-Ed in the Miami Herald that advocated changing the U.S. government's policy toward Cuba. In the piece, Obama stated his support for lifting travel restrictions to and from Cuba. [...] Obama endorses a change in the amount of money (currently limited to $300 per household each quarter) that Cuban-Americans can send to family members on the island. Obama has voted to end TV Martí ... on two occasions, putting him in opposition to Hillary Clinton.
The irony? Recent polls showing that Cuban-Americans themselves are in favor of easing travel and other restrictions on the U.S. relationship with Cuba.