In an historic move, President Obama today announced the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba, a nation we have shunned mostly out of spite for a full half-century. The decision is akin to Richard Nixon’s June 1972 recognition of the People’s Republic of China.
Ever since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1961-2, the United States has blockaded the island Communist nation, believing against all evidence that it could topple the Fidel Castro regime. Fidel gave way to his brother Raoul and still the blockade continued. The people of Cuba suffered in many ways but they also boasted some of the best health care and education systems in the world. In lifting the completely ineffective blockade and opening up mutual relations, the President closed an ugly chapter in American history. The tide of public opinion has been running against continuing the chill for the past 15-20 years according to polls conducted by Florida International University. Their 2014 poll shows 52% of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County opposing the embargo and 68% favoring establishing diplomatic relations. (You can download a PDF of the report summary here or the full report here.)
The only thing that kept the Cuba embargo alive as long as it did was the strong opposition of the powerful Cuban-American lobby. Until this generation, that community was bitterly opposed to anything that would help the country from which many of them were exiled, forcibly or voluntarily. No politician — and particularly those with a Florida constituency — could support diplomatic relations with Cuba and live politically to tell about it. True to form, Florida GOP Senator Marco Rubio — a hard right-winger whose name is on the medium-long list of prospects for the 2016 Presidential nomination — immediately denounced Obama’s decision and vowed to see that Congress never allocates funds to build an embassy in Havana or support one there. He is obviously out of touch with his own constituents (see the FIU poll, above), and such a militant, combative person that he can’t be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.
Clearly, Cuba still has a long way to go on the human rights front. The Department of State will review the nation’s status as a state sponsor of terrorism (a label that was probably never deserved but served a political purpose) and, presumably, revoke that ill-considered and unfounded ruling. This does not mean, of course, that we should decrease our pressure on Castro to live up to human rights commitments of the United Nations, but rather it gives us a better and clearer channel through which to pursue those concerns and pressure for appropriate reforms.
There was a token prisoner exchange bundled into the deal but the real purpose was simply to restore sanity.
I have found more and more to disagree with Obama about as his Presidency has lurched along in the past four years particularly, but I heartily applaud this humane and intelligent decision. And I join with several members of my family who were born in Cuba or had Cuban parents in rejoicing over this resolution. It is a wonderful day for peace on Planet Earth.