Hailed as a “Christmas miracle” by some and disparaged as “appeasement” and “surrender” by others, this week’s rapprochement between the United States and Cuba is neither the end of the world, nor a world-changing breakthrough. It is simply a recognition that the world has changed in the 50-plus years since our Cold War-era policy has been in place.
In today’s multi-lateral world, the United States has diplomatic relations with nearly all of the nations considered our mortal enemies back in the 1960s. Russia has traveled from enemy, to ally and back to enemy. China, a nation we fought two proxy wars against during the Cold War, now exists as our “frenemy” — a regime we deeply distrust, but also our largest trading partner.
The economic sanctions used against rogue nations today are not nearly as rudimentary as the all-encompassing embargo we have against Cuba. In just the past year, we have put wave after wave of targeted economic sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s Russian regime. The goal of the sanctions has been to hurt Putin and his cronies while sparing the Russian people as much as possible.
In Cuba, our policy has shown to have the opposite effect. Top experts in the field have argued that we have inadvertently prolonged the regime of Fidel and Raul Castro, weakening opposition elements and giving the Castros a convenient scapegoat for all the island nation’s ills.
What we truly need now is a policy that supports the re-introduction of capitalism in Cuba and uses both a carrot and a stick to change the policies of the regime while strengthening the forces of change.
This is not only the opinion of experts in the field, it is more and more likely to be the opinion of Cuban-Americans, especially those born here. At one time, Florida’s Cuban community was monolithically opposed to rapprochement, but today, the community is split, with more and more people wanting to move beyond the one-size-fits-all embargo policy of the 1960s.
While the administration can ease travel bans and establish basic diplomatic relations, the embargo remains U.S. law, and that is unlikely to change in the immediate future. The events of the past week are only the first step in a long process. It is a process that can only be completed by the Cuban people asserting their rights to self-determination, and that eventuality is likely to come quicker due to the changes now being put into effect.