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Horowitz: Declaring a New Era for U.S.-Cuba Relations

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

 

Secretary of State John Kerry marked the official restoration of diplomatic relations between the two nations at a ceremony in Havana last week.  The unfurling of the American flag over the American embassy in Havana—now upgraded from a diplomatic mission signaled the end of 54 years of a failed and outdated policy of attempting to isolate the Communist state, only 90 miles off the Florida coast.

During that time period we normalized relations with other Communist nations, including China and Vietnam, but our policy from Cuba, a vestige of the Cold Ward, which ended more than 25 years ago, remained in place largely because of the disproportionate influence of the first generation of Cuban Americans who fled Cuba in the wake of the revolution and settled in large numbers in South Florida.  

Fiercely anti-Castro, strategically located in an important swing state, historically overwhelmingly Republican in voting preference and always willing to contribute in large amounts to favored candidates and causes,this resourceful, entrepreneurial and successful generation of Cuban immigrants amassed political power far exceeding their small share of the overall US population.

As a second generation of Cubans mainly born in the United States, however, comes of age and mortality takes its inevitable toll on the founding generation, attitudes in the Cuban community have shifted markedly. This created the political open ably seized by President Obama to go in a new more positive direction.

And the broader American public is overwhelmingly in support of renewing ties, with nearly, 3-out-of-4 Americans, including nearly 6-in-10 Republicans approving. according to a PEW Research Poll. PEW reports similar results in Latina America with nearly 8-in-10 respondents polled in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Venezuela indicating their support. In both the United States and Latin America, overwhelming majorities also favor the United States ending its trade embargo with Cuba.  This step would take an Act of Congress.

Kerry used the ceremony, which was carried live on state television and according to Reuters accurately translated into Spanish, as an opportunity to call for changes in Cuba’s closed political system "We remain convinced the people of Cuba would be best served by a genuine democracy, where people are free to choose their leaders,We will continue to urge the Cuban government to fulfill its obligations under U.N. and Inter-American human rights covenants." Additionally, Kerry met privately with Cuban dissidents.

While there will be bumps along the road, we are now firmly on a path that is likely over time to bring positive changes to Cuba,where  some moves to establish a private sector are already underway, and where travel and information flow between the two nations is already much easier...  An added benefit of renewing ties with Cuba is our increasing positive standing in Latin America, a major area of economic growth and opportunity, where our outdated policy was an irritant to the other nations in the region.

The next step is to lift the Trade Embargo, which bring economic benefits to both the United States and Cuba.  As Kerry accurately pointed out, given the current opposition of Congressional Republicans, this can likely only come about if Cuba demonstrates progress on human rights. Still, on this question, we are talking about when-not if.  To realize the full benefits of our new more sensible policy, let’s hope, however, the Trade Embargo ends sooner rather than later.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.

 

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