Castro Brothers’ Charm Offensive

Ray Walser /

Cuban President Fidel Castro (L) and his brother Raul, chat on December 23, 2003 in Havana, during a meeting of the Cuban Parliament. Raul Castro succeeded his brother Fidel Castro as the president of Cuba on February 24, 2008, in a historic power shift expected to keep Havana firmly on its communist path, officials said.

On April 6, Ambassador Jeffrey S. Davidow, White House Advisor for the Summit of the Americas, said very plainly: “It would be unfortunate if the principal theme of [the Summit of the Americas] turned out to be Cuba. As I’ve told you, I think there are a lot of very important issues that warrant discussion, whether it’s the economic issue, social inclusion, the environment, public safety. We would prefer, obviously, to focus on what we have been preparing for, but there is no effort on our part to try to stifle conversation on any topic.”

Some in Congress believe exactly the opposite. This became quite apparent during a visit by members of the Congressional Black Caucus to Havana this week. The trip included dinner with Cuba’s President Raul Castro and a rare opportunity for three members of the delegation to speak with Fidel Castro. The delegation, according to the press, did not meet with any dissidents or opposition figures.

Several members of Congress want to force President Obama’s hand and pressure him to remove as quickly as possible all restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba. They want this done largely on Cuba’s terms, without leveraging a single concession from the Castro brothers. They also seek to convey the impression that the climate in Havana is ripe for dialogue and negotiation.