By BARACK OBAMA
When my father was a young man living in Kenya, the freedom and opportunity of the United States exerted such a powerful draw that he moved halfway around the world to pursue his dreams here. My father's story is not unique. The same has been true for tens of millions of people, from every continent -- including for the many Cubans who have come and made their lives here since the start of Fidel Castro's dictatorship almost 50 years ago.
It is a tragedy that, just 90 miles from our shores, there exists a society where such freedom and opportunity are kept out of reach by a government that clings to discredited ideology and authoritarian control. A democratic opening in Cuba is, and should be, the foremost objective of our policy. We need a clear strategy to achieve it -- one that takes some limited steps now to spread the message of freedom on the island, but preserves our ability to bargain on behalf of democracy with a post-Fidel government.
The primary means we have of encouraging positive change in Cuba today is to help the Cuban people become less dependent on the Castro regime in fundamental ways. U.S. policy must be built around empowering the Cuban people, who ultimately hold the destiny of Cuba in their hands. The United States has a critical interest in seeing Cuba join the roster of stable and economically vibrant democracies in the Western Hemisphere. Such a development would bring us important security and economic benefits, and it would allow for new cooperation on migration, counter-narcotics and other issues.
Advance political reform
These interests, and our support for the aspirations of the Cuban people, are ill served by the further entrenchment of the Castro regime, which is why we need to advance peaceful political and economic reform on the island. Castro's ill health and the potentially tumultuous changes looming ahead make the matter all the more urgent.
Unfortunately, the Bush administration has made grand gestures to that end while strategically blundering when it comes to actually advancing the cause of freedom and democracy in Cuba. This is particularly true of the administration's decision to restrict the ability of Cuban Americans to visit and send money to their relatives in Cuba. This is both a humanitarian and a strategic issue. That decision has not only had a profoundly negative impact on the welfare of the Cuban people. It has also made them more dependent on the Castro regime and isolated them from the transformative message carried there by Cuban Americans.
In the ''Cuban spring'' of the late 1990s and early years of this decade, dissidents and human-rights activists had more political space than at any time since the beginning of Castro's rule, and Cuban society experienced a small opening in advancing the cause of freedom for the Cuban people.
U.S. policies -- especially the fact that Cuban Americans were allowed to maintain and deepen ties with family on the island -- were a key cause of that ''Cuban spring.'' Although cut off by the Castro regime's deplorable March 2003 jailing of 75 of Cuba's most prominent and courageous dissidents, the opening underscored what is possible with a sensible strategic approach.
We in the United States should do what we can to bring about another such opening, taking certain steps now-and pledging to take additional steps as temporary openings are solidified into lasting change.
Cuban-American connections to family in Cuba are not only a basic right in humanitarian terms, but also our best tool for helping to foster the beginnings of grass-roots democracy on the island. Accordingly, I will grant Cuban Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittances to the island.
But as we reach out in some ways now, it makes strategic sense to hold on to important inducements we can use in dealing with a post-Fidel government, for it is an unfortunate fact that his departure by no means guarantees the arrival of freedom on the island.
Accordingly, I will use aggressive and principled diplomacy to send an important message: If a post-Fidel government begins opening Cuba to democratic change, the United States (the president working with Congress) is prepared to take steps to normalize relations and ease the embargo that has governed relations between our countries for the last five decades. That message coming from my administration in bilateral talks would be the best means of promoting Cuban freedom. To refuse to do so would substitute posturing for serious policy -- and we have seen too much of that in other areas over the past six years.
We must not lose sight of our fundamental goal: freedom in Cuba. At the same time, we should be pragmatic in our approach and clear-sighted about the effects of our policies. We all know the power of the freedom and opportunity that America at its best has both embodied and advanced. If deployed wisely, those ideals will have as transformative effect on Cubans today as they did on my father more than 50 years ago. "- in www.thatpoliticalblog.com