Last month, CAF co-director Robert Borosage called on President Obama to normalize relations with Cuba as one of the steps he should take to “move good things forward” in the face of a Republican opposition bent on advancing destructive economic policies.
Today, President Obama moved decisively in that direction, in a speech in which he acknowledged that it was foolish to continue the 53-year-old set of isolationist policies that have done nothing to improve the lives of the Cuban people or move them closer to a people-powered democracy.
“We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result,” President Obama said. The effort to shape Cuba’s political direction by breaking its economy has been an abject failure. As President Obama noted in his speech today, we chose the path of economic engagement with two other Communist foes, China and Vietnam, with the expectation that it would be engagement, not estrangement, that would promote democracy and human rights in those countries.
President Obama’s actions today launches discussions with Cuba toward the establishment of diplomatic relations and an American embassy in Havana. It will ease travel restrictions, increase the amount of money Cuban expatriates can send to their relatives on the island, and lift other restrictions on commercial transactions. The State Department will review Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism and report to the president within six months.
President Obama also announced that he will participate in the Summit of the Americas in July, where he will be able to personally advocate for human rights and democracy throughout the Southern hemisphere more convincingly, having acted decisively to put behind him the hypocrisy of the Cuban policy.
Republicans have responded as expected, denouncing the president for being weak and feckless. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida channeled the resentment of Cubans who fled the Castro regime and who vow vengeance against anyone who suggests that raging against the revolution is not only fruitless but wrong-headed. There remains one major barrier to full normalization of relations with Cuba – the set of laws that codify the Cuba economic embargo – and many – though not nearly all – conservative Republicans in Congress will rally around Rubio as the Cuban-American face of maintaining the status quo.
But far from weak, President Obama is exhibiting the kind of bold leadership – fighting against the shibboleths that have kept America bound to policies that work against the interests of ordinary people and against the values we profess to believe in.