Redefining the U.S.-Cuba Relationship

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.

Comments

  1. Bryce says

    I agree with everything you said except for this one point:

    “*After November, President Obama will not stand for election again and need therefore not fear personal electoral consequences.”

    Tell that to Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

    Obama may not have any personal consequences, but he has an obligation to his party.

    • Keith Humphreys says

      @Bryce: My view is that (1) I don’t think Biden will run in 2016, so not the Gore case and (2) If Fidel is dead in 2016, it will be hard to whip up much anger about the last Democratic President laying the groundwork for a good relationship in Cuba while he was still alive.

    • Ken Rhodes says

      Right. If Clinton had kept his zipper up, we would not have had eight years of Cheney and Rumsfield. Not to mention, Karl Rove would be an obscure footnote to history of losing campaigns, and Grover Norquist would be remembered as the Judas goat who led so many Republican sheep to their slaughter.

      But I’m confused by the original point regarding electoral consequences. Keith’s post states this as a fact:

      *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.

      So what’s the big deal. Not gonna cost many votes in Florida (if any) anyway. And it seems to me it could win quite a few votes of free-market supporters around the country whose main interest in Cuba is “The business of America is business. Let’s put all that ancient history to bed and get down to business with a trading partner that’s close to home and that needs our stuff.”

      • Keith Humphreys says

        @Ken Rhodes: The big deal is Florida being decided by such narrow margins in recent Presidential elections. Other than that, I agree with you.

  2. Byomtov says

    There is one thing that might make an opening to Cuba attractive to business Republicans. Ultimately, the profit opportunities there are enormous if the economy liberalizes, as it probably will. Cuba is big enough, varied enough, interesting enough, close enough, to be a foreign tourist destination for Americans surpassed, possibly, only by Canada and Mexico. A renovated Havana could be a jewel of the Western Hemisphere. If I could, I’d buy real estate there today.

    There are Spanish companies running hotels in Cuba, and Chinese companies selling Havana city buses. There is offshore drilling. Would it be bad politics to try to emphasize these opportunities?

    (Yes, I recently spent some a couple of weeks there – clearly enough, by normal pundit standards – to pontificate broadly on the country and its future.)

  3. Tangurena says

    It doesn’t matter what Obama does, he can’t undo the Elian Gonzalez fiasco that happened under Clinton. That is one of the biggest reasons that Cuban immigrants (and their descendants) vote Repulican, and that special interest group is why Florida swings safely Republican.

    I used to live in Southern Florida, and left a few years ago. Businesses were still getting burnt to the ground because the owners didn’t condemn Fidel enough to suit the terrorists in Miami.

  4. Jaxspop says

    Having just returned from Cuba, and having this discussion with many locals, I was surprised to hear so many suggest that they have no desire to be “Like America”. They like their health care, their education and the absence of what they perceive as Blatant American Commerce. The pervasive paucity which exists in Cuba, seems to be more a problem for their neighbors to the north. I’d suggest that when one looks around the Caribbean searching for some economic powerhouse, there are none to be found. To expect Cuba to become that thriving island in the Caribbean, populated with successful entrepreneurs generating wealth for the country once the Castro brothers are are gone, is folly. These folks are no more industrious or hard working than those who enjoy free newspapers, western television or the internet in Haiti, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic or the Bahamas.

    Let’s face it, tens of millions found a way out of Europe 100 years ago, transiting far more than a 90 mile strait of water to their safety. Where there’s a will, there’s a way !

    • Byomtov says

      You could be right, of course, since my direct knowledge is pretty limited.

      But let’s just say I talked to some different Cubans than you did, and am less willing to generalize about the Caribbean.

  5. Barry says

    Tangurena says:
    April 17, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    “It doesn’t matter what Obama does, he can’t undo the Elian Gonzalez fiasco that happened under Clinton. That is one of the biggest reasons that Cuban immigrants (and their descendants) vote Repulican, and that special interest group is why Florida swings safely Republican. ”

    I was under the impression that the Cubans in Florida had been voting Republican for quite some time.