Proudly, the United States has supported democracy and human rights in Cuba through these five decades. We have done so primarily through policies that aimed to isolate the island, preventing the most basic travel and commerce that Americans can enjoy anyplace else. And though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, no other nation joins us in imposing these sanctions, and it has had little effect beyond providing the Cuban government with a rationale for restrictions on its people. Today, Cuba is still governed by the Castros and the Communist Party that came to power half a century ago.
... I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result. Moreover, it does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse. Even if that worked -– and it hasn’t for 50 years –- we know from hard-earned experience that countries are more likely to enjoy lasting transformation if their people are not subjected to chaos....Most Americans agree that our policy towards Cuba has been a failure. President Obama should be applauded for making a much needed change that could have negative political consequences for his party, particularly in all-important Florida which has a powerful Cuban-American voting bloc. What is maddening though is that President Obama forged this historic change in policy while obtaining no policy concessions which would have helped the Cuban people. A CNN editorial by Frida Ghitas, a columnist for The Miami Herald, sums it up well:
Let's be clear about this: The embargo on Cuba should have been lifted a long time ago. And yet it's hard to avoid the impression that although President Barack Obama had an overwhelmingly strong hand in negotiations, he played it badly. Badly, that is, for the sake of the Cuban people.
Yet despite Washington having significant leverage as the Cuban economy teeters and low oil prices threaten to sever its Venezuelan lifeline, the United States secured virtually no meaningful concessions.
Cuba remains one of the world's most politically oppressive countries. At the very least, therefore, the agreement to restore relations should have included substantial commitments on Havana's part to relax the state's grip. But it did not.
Of course, the release of the unjustly incarcerated Alan Gross is welcome. But his release should have been viewed not as a bargaining chip, but as a prerequisite to any deal at all. Instead, there was a separate exchange of spies, which Cuba treated as a major victory. The only concession that has been reported upon is Havana's agreement to release about 50 imprisoned dissidents. This leaves millions of Cubans still under the thumb of a repressive state.
With that in mind, the main goal of U.S. policy toward Havana should be helping the Cuban people live in prosperity and freedom, able to enjoy the benefits of modernity, complete with the right to free expression and participation in the global economy. By beginning to lift the embargo, material conditions in Cuba are likely to improve -- and that is most welcome -- but the process of introducing political freedoms may or may not advance.
So, as the United States moves to dismantle the old, failed embargo, let's hope it plays its hand with greater skill on behalf of the Cuban people moving forward, and extracts from the government verifiable progress on human rights and individual freedoms. It is time to help Cuba and its people rejoin the modern world.