Even though the Florida primary occurred back in January, on Tuesday the three leading presidential candidates all issued statements on a topic normally reserved for pandering until soon before Florida votes: Cuba.
Speaking in Miami, John McCain used a speech honoring Cuban Independence Day to once again ridicule Barack Obama's views on foreign policy. McCain accused Obama of shifting his position regarding the Cuban trade embargo, claiming that Obama formerly supported lifting the embargo without qualifications, but now only wants to ease some of the restrictions. McCain went on to say of Obama, "He also wants to sit down unconditionally for a presidential meeting with Raul Castro. These steps would send the worst possible signal to Cuba's dictators -- there is no need to undertake fundamental reforms, they can simply wait for a unilateral change in U.S. policy." The statement echoes a frequent criticism leveled recently by the McCain campaign against Obama: namely, that Obama's foreign policy stances accommodate leaders and nations opposed to U.S. interests.
According to the New York Times, Obama now advocates removing the trade embargo only if Cuba enacts some democratic reforms. However, in 2003, while running for a Senate seat, Obama filled out a questionnaire saying he favored normalized relations with Cuba without any qualifiers.
But McCain can hardly claim to be perfectly consistent when it comes to his own Cuba policy. On Tuesday, McCain voiced his support for the current U.S. trade embargo with Cuba and said that if he's elected president he will push for democratic reforms in the country. This position seems to conflict with his stance during the 2000 presidential campaign. Then, McCain said he supported normalizing relations with Cuba, even if Fidel Castro remained in power, if the government made some democratic reforms. Today, McCain said, "The embargo must stay in place until these basic elements of democratic society are met."
The Obama campaign chose two supporters with foreign policy experience to respond to McCain's charges. In an e-mail release, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson condemned McCain's foreign policy positions as continuations of President Bush's flawed strategies. Dodd said, "John McCain needs to explain why continuing to do exactly what George Bush has done will somehow produce a different result. The Senator McCain I used to know was open to negotiations with Cuba to lift the embargo, but now he's taking a hard line position, embracing a policy that has failed the Cuban people and the American people alike for fifty years ... It's time to reject a Bush-McCain approach that has isolated us in our own hemisphere."
Richardson added, "John McCain -- like George Bush -- is afraid to talk to bad guys ... If you want to see real results, you need to do what Barack will do -- talk to the bad guys."
Not to be left out, Hillary Clinton issued a statement of her own, urging Cuba's current leader, Raul Castro, to "release political prisoners, permit free expression and assembly, and set the stage for open and competitive elections." She also reiterated her support of the embargo, stating, "I believe that we should maintain current restrictions on trade with Cuba until the government takes concrete steps to guarantee political and civil liberties and permit free and fair elections."