The United States and Cuba ended more than a half-century of enmity Wednesday, announcing that they would reestablish diplomatic relations and begin dismantling the last pillar of the Cold War.
The historic move, following 18 months of secret negotiations and finally made possible by Cuba’s release of detained U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross, fulfilled one of President Obama’s key second-term goals.
The decision is likely to reverberate across many political frontiers where the standoff between Washington and Havana has played a role — including across much of Latin America, where U.S. policy on Cuba has long been a source of friction.
“These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked,” Obama said in a televised, midday address. “It’s time for a new approach.”
Saying that he was “under no illusion about the continued barriers to freedom that remain for ordinary Cubans,” Obama said he was convinced that “through a policy of engagement, we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the Cuban people help themselves.”
Some critics of President Obama's action view this as merely another appeasement to a tyrannical nation. However, I view appeasement as kowtowing to another nation that could otherwise inflict harm upon the U.S. if tensions were not eased. But this is Cuba we're talking about, not China or North Korea. Even if "normalization" turns out to be a spectacular failure, I don't see it inflicting long term damage to America.
On the flip side, it seemed that the release of Mr. Gross (a wonderful thing, of course) came at a steep price. And even if the embargo is lifted (can't happen without Congressional approval), how do the Cuban people benefit? It's likely that as long as the Castro brothers are in power, the citizens of that country will continue to be deprived of a better way of life regardless of what goods flow to their nation. A Washington Post editorial analogized this situation to that of what happened in another communist ruled country.
Mr. Obama says normalizing relations will allow the United States to be more effective in promoting political change in Cuba. That is contrary to U.S. experience with Communist regimes such as Vietnam, where normalization has led to no improvements on human rights in two decades. Moreover, nothing in Mr. Obama’s record of lukewarm and inconstant support for democratic change across the globe can give (Cuba's leading dissident blogger Yoani) Sánchez and her fellow freedom fighters confidence in this promise.
The Vietnam outcome is what the Castros are counting on: a flood of U.S. tourists and business investment that will allow the regime to maintain its totalitarian system indefinitely. Mr. Obama may claim that he has dismantled a 50-year-old failed policy; what he has really done is give a 50-year-old failed regime a new lease on life.
The one ray of hope I have is that if travel restrictions are loosened, it may allow Cubans to have an opportunity to experience life outside their oppressed existence. And if enough Cubans get even a small taste of liberty by visiting America and then being free to return to their homeland, it could possibly embolden them to install a similar way of life. Is that to say an uprising may be overly optimistic? Most definitely. But as long as the status quo remained in place, it was an iron clad guarantee that Cubans would never be free to realize that the world has indeed change in 50 years, though you wouldn't know it by their antiquated way of life.