Since his inauguration nearly six years ago, we have held out hope that part of the legacy of the Barack Obama presidency might be a normalization of relations with Cuba. At last we appear to be on our way to that goal.
In his televised address, the president posed the question we have asked many times: If the U.S. can have diplomatic relations, trade and tourism with such cold (and hot) war foes as Russia, China and Vietnam, then why not with Cuba?
We think the answer is obvious: There is no good reason to continue this rigid and vengeful policy of isolation.
As the president noted, our five-decade-old Cuba policy has been ineffective. If a 53-year embargo didn’t bring the Castro brothers to their knees, what makes us think a 54-year embargo will?
It’s time for something else.
It is time to develop a U.S.-Cuba relationship that is based on what Obama called a “policy of engagement” that looks to the future, rather than one that is dictated by what the president called “the heavy weight of history.”
As far as we are concerned, this can’t happen soon enough, but we realize it will take time to establish diplomatic relations, open embassies and begin reciprocal travel, trade, cooperation and investment.
Unfortunately, it will also require a Congress dominated by the opposition party to pass legislation ending the trade embargo.
In the first minutes following the White House announcement, Republican leaders in Congress were digging in on the embargo and also talking about denying funding for the establishment of any U.S. embassy in Havana.
The GOP hawks may have the votes, for now, but we believe the president has history and popular opinion on his side.
The latest opinion polls show a majority of Americans favor normalizing relations with Cuba. And the tide has turned in the Cuban-American community, as well. According to a survey by Florida International University earlier this year, 68% of Cuban-Americans in Miami favored re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, while 69% supported the lifting of travel restrictions.
The president said he was acting because “it’s the right thing to do.” It’s time for Congress to agree.