President Obama began dismantling one of the final relics of Cold War foreign policy today by announcing the historic decision that his administration is ending the U.S. isolation of Cuba.
The president said,
In the most significant changes in our policy in more than fifty years, we will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries. Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people, and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.
There’s a complicated history between the United States and Cuba. I was born in 1961 — just over two years after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, and just a few months after the Bay of Pigs invasion, which tried to overthrow his regime. Over the next several decades, the relationship between our countries played out against the backdrop of the Cold War, and America’s steadfast opposition to communism. We are separated by just over 90 miles. But year after year, an ideological and economic barrier hardened between our two countries.
I believe that we can do more to support the Cuban people and our values through engagement. After all, these fifty years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.
The embargo will remain in place because it has been legislatively codified. Congress would need to pass a bill lifting the embargo before fifty plus years of U.S. policy towards Cuba could be fully reversed, but the president used his executive powers to do something that is an historic shift in approach in relations with Cuba.
Obama has taken a step that a majority of Americans have been in favor of for decades. Gallup has polled on the support for normalization of relations with Cuba, and in every year since 1999 at least 55% of Americans polled supported a normalization of relations.
The president was correct decades have demonstrated that the policy of isolation and embargo has failed. If anything, the approach that the US government adopted has strengthened the Castro brothers’ hold on power. If the United States wants a democratic Cuba, it needs to open the door to democracy.
Previous presidents have thought about Cuba, but Obama was one who was bold enough to take the step. What the president announced was history being made, and it could represent the beginning of a new phase in U.S./Cuba relations.