By Hunter Johnson
A lot of people don’t realize it, but the United States has had a unique history with its neighbors in the Western Hemisphere. While many countries in South America have a less-than-savory opinion of the U.S. now, they used to look toward America as an inspiration for their own governments. Mexico was once a rival of America’s in the race to become the dominant power in the hemisphere before it lost half of its territory to its foe. For a time the U.S. even eyed Canada as territory ripe for annexation; now Canada is one of our closest allies.
Then there’s Cuba. Relations between America and Cuba have ebbed and flowed, moving from friendly to awful over the last couple of centuries. For over 50 years now, however, there has not been an official relationship between the two countries, a result of Fidel Castro’s communist revolution and America’s failure to stop it. As we all know, the U.S. placed an embargo on the island nation in hopes of strangling it back to democracy.
As of late, though, the tides have begun to change. The Obama administration has renewed diplomatic communications with the island nation and has already begun to relax some of its restrictions on trade and travel. Cubans, for their part, have met this news with jubilation. Many of them are excited at the prospect of more goods, updated technology and infrastructure and a renewed tourism industry.
American reactions, though, have been mixed. Some support Obama’s move as finally undoing a strategy of isolation that can only claim to have successfully prevented Americans from getting great cigars. Others, like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, disagree with the new strategy. Rubio, whose parents emigrated from Cuba in the late 1950s, says that the Cuban regime is still no friend to America and that relaxing the embargo will only keep the corrupt government in power.
As I see it, this is one of those classic and annoying situations where both sides have their merits. The Cuban government has a history of being pals with our favorite enemies/frenemies (Russia, Venezuela, North Korea, Hezbollah). Raul Castro has taken up his brother’s mantle and continues to lead the country as an at-times harsh dictator. This is still a country that would enjoy causing the occasional headache for the United States.
That said, the American embargo might have actually reached the point where it should be ended. We’ve choked off all kinds of goods and business from Cuba over the last few decades, and the effects are plain to see just by walking down a street in Havana. The Cuban people, fortunately, are not the brainwashed populace one would find in North Korea; most of them understand what good would come to them if their country became friendly with the U.S. again.
If change will ever come to Cuba, the United States must show the Cubans themselves that things can change. By enabling trade and travel between the two countries, the people of Cuba may finally begin to enjoy the benefits that come with a positive relationship with America. This could inspire a gradual, peaceful movement toward democracy in the country, potentially unhindered by the Castro brothers since both are quite old and, well, you know what happens to all people eventually.
Of course, the Cuban government could always try to squash such movements toward democracy. In that case, America could flip the embargo switch back on and perhaps give the Cuban people even more reason to protest.
The Obama administration’s move to renew trade and diplomatic relations with Cuba could be a boom for both countries just as easily as it could be a bust. However, if the end goal is a positive relationship with a friendly and democratic Cuba, this change has to come at some point. Why not now?