Whoever wins the Presidential election in November will face criticism from Central and South American nations about the embargo and isolation of Cuba. Neither candidate will budge on this issue prior to the election, for reasons obvious to anyone who understands the electoral college. As a Republican interested in re-election, Romney will not budge after November either, if he wins (another reason why this election matters). However, if President Obama is re-elected, he will have a historically unprecedented opening to redefine the U.S.-Cuba relationship.
Consider the facts:
*After November, President Obama will not stand for election again and need therefore not fear personal electoral consequences.
*The Cuban exiles overwhelmingly vote Republican, so there is not much for a Democratic President (or other Democratic candidates) to lose in popularity with that population in any event.
*Hatred of Castro is still prevalent among older Cuban-Americans in Florida, but their children and even moreso their grandchildren want a closer connection between the U.S. and Cuba.
*By the time of the 2016 Presidential election, Fidel Castro will be 90 if he is alive at all. The people nursing grudges against him in South Florida are also passing into history. No matter whether that generation was right or wrong, the future of the U.S.-Cuba relationship belongs to others.
The President has already laid good groundwork by making travel to Cuba easier. He could and should dramatically expand travel and exchange programmes (including for children) after the election, restrict the embargo’s reach (exempting all but military supplies, perhaps), and consider expanding our formal diplomatic presence in Havana.
The political reality may be that as long as the Castros are alive, we can’t fully normalize our relationship with Cuba. If that is so, there is no reason why we can’t have all the pieces in place to jump start a friendship 24 hours after those cold war dinosaurs go for a Burton.