“I believe that we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement. After all, these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.”
President Barack Obama, Wednesday, announcing his intention to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba
Following the release of a U.S. assistance program prisoner who has been held in a Cuban prison for five years and an unnamed agent who has been held for twenty, and a reciprocal release of three Cuban prisoners held by the United States, the president is finally moving forward in reestablishing diplomatic relations with the island nation.
Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the diplomatic agency would be sending a delegation to Havana in January to continue talks about migration between the two countries. “I look forward to being the first Secretary of State in 60 years to visit Cuba,” he said at his announcement.
Cuban-American politicians in Washington, D.C., not surprisingly, were not wholly supportive of the president’s initiative. The reaction came from both sides of the aisle. According to USA Today’s story:
“Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., a Cuban-American Democrat and the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said ‘President Obama’s actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government.’
“Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American Republican from Florida and a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016, said he rejoiced at Gross’ release. But he condemned the rest of the deal as ‘the latest in a long line of failed attempts by President Obama to appease rogue regimes at all cost.'”
Really Sen. Rubio? Appeasement, as if making it easier for people with a mission to travel to Cuba were like handing Czechoslovakia to the Nazis?
But if that is the prevailing sentiment of the incoming, Republican dominated Congress, it will be exceedingly difficult to get the embargo entirely lifted, as Congress has to vote to do it.
Still, given the changing attitude most Cuban-Americans have about America’s decades long stand against the Castros, there is a good chance Republicans will find enough courage to include Democrats in their voting bloc.
“Florida International University in Miami has been polling Cuban-Americans since 1991,” NPR reported, Wednesday. “Back then, 87 percent of Cuban-Americans supported the embargo…but in the 2014 poll, conducted this summer, a [69%] majority…favored lifting [most of] the embargo.”
The numbers for those wanting to restore diplomatic relations were overwhelming: 68% of all respondents and 88% of young people, under thirty.
More importantly to the folks on Capitol Hill, the FIU poll also concluded that 55% of registered voters approve of restoring diplomatic ties. If the Republicans want to be the party of the future, they can’t ignore that FIU says it’s only the 70-plus crowd that want to maintain the status quo.
Still, the rhetoric of cautious responsibility is par on this course that crosses the Florida Straits, especially when we’re talking about swing-state politics. “I don’t think we should be negotiating with a repressive regime to make changes in our relationship,” former Florida governor and likely 2016 presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, told reporters.
Even President Obama, in his announcement, Wednesday, warned that this was not an unfettered approval of the Cuban leadership’s practices. “I’m under no illusion about the continued barriers to freedom that remain for ordinary Cubans,” he said. “The United States believes that no Cubans should face harassment or arrest or beatings simply because they’re exercising a universal right to have their voices heard, and we will continue to support civil society there. While Cuba has made reforms to gradually open up its economy, we continue to believe that Cuban workers should be free to form unions, just as their citizens should be free to participate in the political process.”
At the same time, as Sec. Kerry said, “Today’s step…reflects our firm belief that the risk and the cost of trying to turn the tide is far lower than the risk and cost of remaining stuck in an ideological cement of our own making.” And that is what will take convincing for the conservatives in Congress, that we, and we alone, are responsible for a meaningless and unproductive embargo, not the Cuban people, and they shouldn’t be made to suffer because of our own stubborn lack of political will.
Now, if we can only get Israel to put an embassy in Tehran.