Today marks a new era in US-Cuba relations and arguably the first substantive change since 1961.
“We will end an outdated approach that has failed to advance our interests,” President Obama said in an address this afternoon. “Neither the American nor the Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”
There is no question that the president is right about our failed policy towards Cuba. We have seen little progress in the last five decades despite our isolationist policy, which was designed to push the Castro family to reassess their human rights policies, state sponsorship of terrorism and economic policies that keep the Cuban people impoverished.
Fifty years is long enough to know that something isn’t working. And changing our approach will at least bring about the possibility of better relations with Cuba and create new opportunities for both Cubans and Americans alike.
The crux of the changes in our policy will be the establishment of diplomatic relations. Secretary of State John Kerry will discuss reestablishing an embassy in Havana in the coming months and there will be a relaxation of travel restrictions, remittance levels will increase to $2000 from $500 and the US will seek to expand our sales and exports to Cuba.
To be sure, the most highly publicized aspect of today’s announcement was the release of Alan Gross, an American citizen held in a Cuban prison for five years after being convicted of espionage in 2011.
A day when an American citizen comes home is always a good one. To this end, legislators on both sides of the aisle have praised the development that took months of negotiations between the US and Cuba, sometimes hosted by Canada, and also included Pope Francis.
Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who has long supported the normalization of relations with Cuba and been a strong advocate for bringing Alan Gross home said, “For too long we have let Cuba dictate our policy. We should do what’s in our interest, which is to let Americans travel and have better relations. [This is the] best chance of spurring good developments in Cuba.”