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    Why real change in Cuba won’t come easy or fast

    Why real change in Cuba won’t come easy or fast
    By WILLIAM M. LEOGRANDE Commentary Opinion Cuba Caribbean Asia Politics
    and Government International Sanctions

    Don’t expect things to change overnight with Cuba: How the next chapter
    in U.S.-Cuba relations could unfold
    Repealing the Helms-Burton Act will be far tougher than reaching
    agreement with Havana
    The historic agreement between Presidents Obama and Raul Castro has
    opened what Obama calls “a new chapter” in relations between the United
    States and Cuba, but we are still on the first page. The rest of the
    chapter remains to be written. What comes next?

    No one should expect things to change overnight. It took six years after
    President Nixon’s historic 1972 trip to China to reestablish normal
    diplomatic relations, and it was 15 more before Washington granted China
    most-favored-nation trade status.

    Progress with Cuba will come faster, but key steps require congressional
    consent. The core of the U.S. economic embargo remains in place. Most
    U.S. exports are still prohibited, and Cuba cannot export anything to
    the United States, which limits Havana’s ability to earn the hard
    currency needed to realize the full potential of bilateral trade. Obama
    promised to engage with Congress to lift the embargo, but trade
    sanctions were written into law by the 1996 Helms-Burton Act. With
    Republican majorities in both houses of Congress attacking Obama’s
    foreign policy, repealing Helms-Burton will be far tougher than reaching
    agreement with Havana.

    Even if Obama recovers his executive authority to negotiate the end of
    the embargo, Washington will seek compensation for nationalized U.S.
    property, and Cuba will seek compensation for damage done by the CIA’s
    secret war and half a century of economic sanctions.

    At Obama’s direction, Secretary of State John F. Kerry is reviewing
    Cuba’s inclusion on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of
    terrorism. He will almost certainly conclude that Cuba should be
    removed, because there is no factual basis for its designation. But this
    requires notification of Congress, giving Republican critics an
    opportunity to try to prevent Cuba’s removal.

    Leading the Republican chorus against the new Cuba policy is Sen. Marco
    Rubio of Florida, who has sworn to block confirmation of Obama’s
    yet-to-be named nominee as U.S. ambassador to Havana. Rubio’s membership
    on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — along with that of Sen. Bob
    Menendez (D-N.J.), another Cuban American critic of Obama’s policy —
    makes quick confirmation highly unlikely. Rubio and Menendez can keep
    the nomination bottled up in committee, but they cannot prevent Obama
    from reestablishing full diplomatic relations with Cuba. Article 2 of
    the Constitution vests that power exclusively with the president.

    Republicans are also threatening to block Obama’s policy by attaching
    Cuba amendments to must-pass appropriations bills. That strategy won’t
    become available for almost a year, however, when the next
    appropriations bills come up. By then, the new relationship with Cuba
    may be so well established that even Republicans would be loath to turn
    back the clock.

    While debate over Cuba rages on Capitol Hill, Washington and Havana will
    continue their dialogue, taking up issues that the recent agreement did
    not resolve. The U.S. continues to fund covert “democracy promotion”
    programs in Cuba to stimulate opposition — programs that led to the
    arrest of Alan Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development
    subcontractor recently released by Cuba after being imprisoned for five
    years. In his speech, Obama signaled an end to U.S. efforts to
    destabilize the Cuban government, saying, “It does not serve America’s
    interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse.”
    But senior U.S. officials are also saying that the democracy programs
    “are not going away.” How will they be refocused in the new era of
    U.S.-Cuba rapprochement?

    The U.S. still spends millions annually broadcasting TV and Radio Marti
    to Cuba, even though the television signal is effectively jammed and the
    radio has a diminishing audience. Cuba says the broadcasts violate its
    sovereignty and years ago offered to carry PBS and CNN on domestic
    television if TV and Radio Marti were halted. Could a similar deal be
    struck now?

    While Washington and Havana are cooperating on the fight against Ebola,
    the U.S. maintains a program that offers Cuban health workers abroad a
    fast track to U.S. residency if they defect. Disagreement over this
    program doomed U.S.-Cuban cooperation on rebuilding Haiti’s healthcare
    system after the 2010 earthquake. Eliminating it will be on the Cuban
    agenda for future talks about deepening cooperation in response to
    global health emergencies.

    Finally, the last agenda item will be Guantanamo. Cuba claims it as
    sovereign territory and wants the United States out. Washington insists
    on the validity of the 1934 treaty leasing the base to the U.S.

    The litany of obstacles to be overcome before U.S.-Cuban relations are
    fully normalized should not detract from the enormity of the steps taken
    by Obama and Castro. They replaced a Cold War framework of animosity
    with a 21st century policy of engagement and cooperation. This new
    chapter provides the means to manage issues where interests conflict,
    and to reach accord on issues where interests coincide. A series of such
    agreements should quickly follow — on counter-narcotics, Coast Guard
    search and rescue, disaster preparedness and response, and law
    enforcement cooperation against human trafficking.

    In April at the Seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama, the two
    presidents will continue their dialogue face to face and take the next
    steps on the road to reconciliation. It is a long road, rife with curves
    and potholes that may slow progress and occasionally cause reversals.
    But finally, after 55 years of antagonism, the journey has begun.

    William M. LeoGrande is a professor of government at American University
    and author with Peter Kornbluh of the recent book “Back Channel to Cuba:
    The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana.”

    Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion

    Source: What’s next on Cuba? – LA Times –