The President has been pretty quiet on Cuba since taking office – somewhat understandably, as he has a lot on his plate. But that makes articles like this one, from the US News and World Report, even more valuable:
The Castros’ remarks have come since the U.S. election and have continued occasionally in interviews, comments to the media, and, in the case of Fidel Castro, his frequent articles in the Cuban press. “I think the statements are important. They’ve registered,” said the State Department official.
The State Department official’s comments also offer a sense of how Cuba’s modest economic reforms—in agriculture and consumer purchasing—are being perceived in official Washington. “The steps have been very small. They’ve been very controlled,” said the official. “They’re looking for ways to signal they’re capable of economic change.”
On the internal scene in Cuba, the official spoke of a “significant desire, and even pressure, on them [Cuban officials] for social and economic reform.” The official added, “The Cuban government has to respond in some fashion.”
There are, I think, a couple of things about this that are interesting even in these short couple of paragraphs. First of all, the fact that the remarks that Fidel and Raúl have been making to the press are on Obama’s radar is very cheering. They’ve been signalling almost frantically since the election that they would be willing to meet Obama halfway if he was willing to do the same, and I think that would be a big change in attitude from both Cuba and the United States.
The more important thing, though, is that the State Department official talked about economic reform as a means to political reform, and not a result of political reform. America’s policy toward Cuba since 1964 has assumed that the first step would be a complete top-down change in the Cuban government. This was never very feasible, and it made for a lot of bad policy. But Cuba has been inching toward capitalism since the mid-1990s, and incremental economic reform will (indeed, has) brought about incremental political reform. That the Obama Administration recognize that, and that they seem committed to pushing that further toward a democratic goverment with a capitalist economy, is cause for hope.