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Saturday, 22 December 2012

Kerry sets hearts fluttering in Miami

The appointment of Massachussetts' Senator John Kerry as Secretary of State to replace Hilary Clinton, has set hearts fluttering in Miami because of fears this might induce a further relaxation of the travel restrictions on Americans visiting Cuba. Kerry is a long time supporter of unrestricted travel, including tourist travel, to the island.

He supported the 2009 Freedom to Travel Bill and, as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, as recently as 2011 he released the following statement:

"Cuba remains, regrettably, the only country in the world that the United States government does not allow its citizens to travel to freely.  I intend to continue pushing legislation, such as I sponsored in the last Congress, that will allow free travel to Cuba.  After 50 years of embargo against Cuba and government prohibitions on contact, it’s time to try something different.”

Hopes that his appointment to high office will see him using it to bring about his stated intentions should be tempered by the long-established tradition of politicians finding that the pressures of office prevent them from being able to make good on the rhetorical promises they made before obtaining power. In addition, one should note that Senator Kerry is extremely vulnerable to attack from the right.

He is a man the US right love to hate because he is by US standards so liberal that they accuse him of being a socialist. Kerry's experience in the Vietnam War led him to empathise with those who saw the US government's role there as dishonourable. A former lawyer and state prosecutor, Kerry is a man of high ideals and has an audacious temperament. In the past his audacity has cost him dearly.

For example, within weeks of taking office as a Senator in 1985 he went to Nicaragua, then governed by the Sandinsitas in the full flush of their revolutioanry fervour. He was accompanied by reporters on a 36-hour, self-appointed fact-finding mission with another newly-elected Democratic Senator, Tom Harkin of Iowa. Congressional Democrats had accused the White House of exaggerating the "communist threat" posed by the Sandinistas. So the two senators were publicly castigated when - just days after meeting with Daniel Ortega and other Nicraguan leaders - the Sandinistas climbed aboard a plane to Moscow to cement ties with the Soviet Union.  Then Secretary of State George Shultz declared that Kerry and Harkin had been "used" by the Nicaraguans, and he ridiculed them for their naivete in "dealing with the communists." Kerry was called "silly" in the Boston press.

The photograph of Kerry (above) shaking hands with Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega is to be found on a thousand far right blogs and websites across the US. (Nicaragua, now once again under Ortega, is of course a close ally of Cuba and Ortega is a close personal friend of Fidel Castro).

Will Kerry and Obama be able to face down the cries of  "soft on Castro" in order to bring about the feared and hoped for changes to US policy on the island? Post-Newtown, with the President taking on the gun lobby and facing the political minefield that entails, I would not bet on it.

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