In what could be the start of a bid to reengage Latin and South America, the Obama Administration has announced it is normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba after months of secret talks.
Given the Cold War ended nearly three decades ago, the US has had a working relationship with Russia since then, and we live in a dynamic world that continually forces us to overcome serious rifts with other nations, easing the 54 year-old Cuban Embargo seems like a seriously overdue policy change.
There is, however, still the Castro issue. Although there was great hope in 2008 when Fidel’s transferred power to his younger, more reform-minded brother Raul would mean major policy and political shifts within Cuba, such changes have been extremely slow to material.
Considering a number of Democrats and Republicans are united in their criticism of Obama’s Cuba policy, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for the Obama Administration to lift the Cuban Embargo. That is unless the Cuban government demonstrates it is truly on a sustained path toward fundamental changes.
That said, the slow transition of Myanmar (Burma) from oppressive military rule to democracy has been helped along by the United States rewarding Myanmar with an easing of sanctions and the normalization of diplomatic ties.
Certainly, there was great criticism when the US decided to reset relations with Myanmar, especially since the policy shift occurred soon after a series of brutal crackdown starting with the 2007 Saffron Revolution, but a plan that offered rewards for steps taken toward reform has materialized into significant changes.
On the other hand, there are still major concerns over military interference in the political system and flagrant human rights violations. Like Myanmar, this means Cuba must be offered a framework that provides specific rewards for specific steps taken while consequences must be applied when both nations regress, which is still missing in the case of Myanmar.
Transitioning from a dictatorship where government simply makes and carries out decisions to a freer society where government must give its population the power to reject its decisions is very difficult.
Looking at the Obama Administration’s diplomatic reset with Iran, negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program continue, but success is in doubt despite high hopes just over a year ago. For the pessimist, Iran serves as an example of the Obama Administration’s failures. For the realist, it demonstrates every opportunity has a chance at failure.
America’s issues with Cuba now have less to do with national security, as well as ideology, and more to do with human rights violations, thus Cuba has less political baggage than human-rights- violator and state-sponsor-of-terrorism Iran, especially as the mentality of Cold War era Americans die out.
In fact, mending fences with Communist Cuba may help the US dispel a perception that America is a hypocritical bully of weaker nations that do not conform to its whims, which will, in turn, help the US combat Russian and other anti-American PR.
Recalling the George W. Bush Administration’s 2007 last-stitch effort to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is important for President Obama to avoid simply pivoting toward the Americas for the sake of his legacy.
Tackling a serious issue in order to take credit for accomplishing a major policy feat would make the Obama Administration’s efforts political in nature. It will also make it more likely the Administration could rush the process and force a resolution, whether good or bad, before the end of the Obama Presidency.
Recognizing the Obama Administration is already offering Cuba a number of major rewards, including a new US embassy, there is evidence to suggest he is moving too fast and needs to slow the reconciliation process for the sake of the Cuban People and the process.
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