Steve Chapman

But the repeal of a largely symbolic policy is more than Obama is ready to contemplate. The administration portrays his new approach as a "major" shift. The Washington Post said he is "breaking from policies first imposed by the Kennedy administration." As if. He's doing little more than dropping a few extra restrictions imposed by George W. Bush, leaving the basic embargo encased in rock, like the fossil it is.

His most notable alteration is segregating our Cuba policy by national origin. Under Obama's plan, Americans who have relatives in Cuba will be able to travel there as often and as long as they want, as well as send all the money their cousins can spend. But Americans without family ties to the island remain under lockdown. The embargo is supposed to advance freedom in Cuba by denying freedom in the United States.

What is the logic here? If an influx of Cuban-Americans would weaken Castro's regime by exposing its people to our ideas and way of life, then an even larger influx of other Americans would do the same thing, only more so. If blocking travel and remittances by most Americans is supposed to topple the government, blocking travel and remittances by Cuban-Americans ought to accelerate the process.

But there is nothing to accelerate. Sanctions haven't worked, are not working and will not work -- as 49 years of experience ought to have convinced us. Fidel Castro has outlasted 10 U.S. presidents, and with brother Raul now running things, his dismal but durable autocracy promises to survive indefinitely. Instead of weakening the regime, our policy may strengthen it by furnishing a perennial excuse for its dysfunctional economy.

Despite that, Obama is merely tweaking the policy he inherited. In most places, people who try things that clearly don't work eventually stop doing them. But in Washington, nothing succeeds like failure.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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