Political Risk Latin America Blog @PolRiskLatam

The salami technique

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on February 17, 2011

by The Economist Online for Americas View – The Economist, February 16th, 2011.

Almost every year, opponents in the United States of the American trade embargo on Cuba think that this year, they might gather just enough momentum to have the restrictions lifted. They have always been proven wrong. A number of factors conspire against them: a powerful pro-embargo lobby; a desire not to ruffle feathers in Florida, a politically influential state home to many Cuban-Americans; and the fact that 53 years after the Cuban revolution, the country is not enough of a priority to take up the necessary time in Congress. Furthermore, since 1992, when the Cuban Democracy Act effectively codified the various provisions of the then-haphazard embargo into federal law, the assumption has been that the only way to meaningfully end the embargo—barring radical political change in Cuba—would be via a vote in Congress.

Barack Obama’s policies towards Cuba since he became president have led some wonder whether there is another way. Using his executive powers, Mr Obama has already punched some significant holes in the embargo. For example, he has allowed American telecommunications companies to provide data and mobile-phone services to Cuba, although the Cuban government has not shown any interest in taking up the offer. He has lifted all restrictions on the amount of money Cuban-Americans can send to their families back home, and the number of visits they can make. And he has declared that Americans without relations in Cuba can send money to the island, as part of an initiative to help “private economic activity” there.

Now some are asking how much further the president can go. A recent legal analysis commissioned by the Washington-based Cuba Study Group argues that he does indeed have significant latitude. Amongst the actions it says the president could make at his own discretion are the lifting of restrictions on American ships travelling between the two countries, a further expansion of legal travel, and even the legalisation of imports produced by small, private Cuban businesses. If the analysis is right and Mr Obama is listening, by the time Congress next votes on the embargo, there might not be that much left of it.

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