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Memo to President Obama

Author: Julia E. Sweig, Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies and Director for Latin America Studies
January/February 2009
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In the first six months of your presidency, you should launch an initiative to put to rest the half century of mutual enmity between the United States and Cuba. Doing so represents an opportunity of both major foreign policy reward and low domestic political risk. Mr. President, a bold initiative with Cuba, early in your presidency, will restore America's credibility and demonstrate your political courage with the Cuban people, in the hemisphere and across the globe. This memo will lay out why, provide several caveats to guide your considerations, and outline a series of concrete recommendations.

Rationale

The United States has maintained an economic embargo, a broad travel ban and a host of punitive diplomatic measures against Cuba for nearly 50 years. Keeping such policies on the books any longer serves no foreign policy, national security or even substantial domestic political agenda: the status quo undermines all three. I am not the first person to argue that the time has come to open a different chapter with Cuba, nor are you the first president who will read a memo arguing as much. In fact, you are the 10th president of the United States to inherit a broken and utterly small-minded policy toward Cuba. And you are the first president since Dwight D. Eisenhower to take office when Fidel Castro was not at the helm on the island.

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