Can Kerry make friends with Cuba?
While the ex-senator's been a harsh critic of U.S. policy toward Havana, he’ll have a hard time changing anything
At the last Summit of the Americas, held in Colombia in April, Washington’s rivals in Latin America and its political allies had the same piece of advice for better US diplomacy in the region: get over your Cuba fixation.
Now, with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) likely to be confirmed as the next secretary of state, theUnited States will have a top diplomat who has been a frequent critic of America’s 50-year-old effort to force regime change in Havana.
In recent years, Kerry has been the Senate’s most prominent skeptic of US-funded pro-democracy efforts that give financial backing to dissident groups in Cuba and beam anti-Castro programming to the island through radio and television programs based in Miami.
Kerry has also favored lifting curbs on US travel to the island, and opening up American tourism to the only country in the world the US government restricts its own citizens from visiting.
Regardless of Kerry’s record on Cuba policy in the Senate, analysts say he will face several obstacles to major change, not least of which will be the man likely to replace him as chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), a Cuban American.
If Menendez becomes chairman, then the committee responsible for shaping US foreign policy in the upper house will be led by a hardliner who wants to ratchet up — not dial back — the US squeeze on Havana.
So while Kerry may have some latitude to adjust Cuba policy from inside the White House, Latin America experts don’t expect sweeping change — like an end to the Cuba Embargo — which requires Congressional action.
“On Latin America, in general, I think Kerry has a longer and broader vision,” said Robert Pastor, professor of international relations at American University. But when it comes to Cuba, he cautioned, “Kerry is also a political realist.