It’s certainly true that 50 years of trade embargo and absence of formal—normalized—relations between the US and Cuba have not brought about increased freedom or prosperity for the Cuban people. Neither had 45 or more years of Cold War containment succeeded in giving the Russian people, or the other peoples trapped behind the USSR’s iron curtain, a chance at improving their lot. Until it did.
Normalization isn’t the necessary change in policy here.
Cuba’s economy, always on the verge of collapse, but always propped up by key supporters—Russia and Venezuela—no longer has those props to hold it up. Venezuela, due to government economic policy failure and the sharp fall in oil prices, is itself in dire economic straits. Russia, due to economic sanctions and the sharp fall in oil prices, also is in dire economic straits. Cuba, now, is in its deepest economic crisis since the Castros took power those 50 years ago.
Why normalize now, then, with economic leverage on the rise?
The US got nothing in return for this normalization. There is no easing of Internet access for the Cubans. There is no increase in freedom of speech for the Cubans. There is no easing of restrictions on public assemblies by the Cuban people. There is no move toward free elections from among freely competing political parties or independently running candidates for the Cuban people. There aren’t even any handshakes, nor promises of greater flexibility, nor winks and nods or quiet pats on the back implying such moves in a nebulous future. Indeed, it appears as though the normalization was a sweetener demanded by the Cuban government in return for bringing to fruition the 3 for 2 prisoner swap.
How does this help the Cuban people?
President Barack Obama’s signatures—Obamacare and Dodd-Frank—along with his economic deadweights of EPA regulation, labor interferences, constant demand for ever higher taxes and spending, combined with his unblemished record of foreign policy failures, form a legacy of shambles.
Could this move, then, just be a desperate attempt to retrieve something of a reputation for, and by, this President? Could it be smaller ball, a naked pandering to Americans of Cuban heritage for the 2016 elections?