A New Era of U.S.-Cuba Relations

And an addition to President Obama's foreign policy legacy.

United States And Cuba Begin Normalizing Relations In Historic Agreement

In an announcement that hardly anyone saw coming, President Obama today declared that the United States will begin the process of normalizing relations with Cuba for the first time in half a century. Decades of isolation have not yielded any improvement in promoting democracy in Cuba, and there is no good reason to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.

Along with this historic change in U.S. foreign policy, Cuba has returned Alan Gross to American soil. Gross was an American contractor for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) who spent five years in Cuban jail: his crime was working to increase Internet access and connectivity in small communities on the island. “What a blessing it is to be a citizen of this country,” Gross said at a news conference this afternoon.

Cuba will also release more than 50 political prisoners and a key U.S. intelligence asset held for nearly 20 years in exchange for the United States releasing several Cuban spies.

Here are some other key details of the agreement:

1. The two counties will re-open diplomatic ties. The United States will re-establish an embassy in Havana, travel restrictions will be loosened, and the embargo on economic goods will be eased. Congressional action, however, is required to fully lift the economic embargo between the two countries.

2. Pope Francis helped to facilitate the deal. The Pope was “directly involved in the talks“, according to Obama administration officials, appealing to both countries and hosting a key meeting at the Vatican this fall. He released a statement congratulating both parties on the agreement.

3. The American public supports this move. Polls have consistently found that a majority of Americans, Cuban Americans, and even Republicans support normalization of relations with Cuba.

4. Economic impacts for Cubans could be significant. The island nation has been isolated from much of the world for a long time. Under the new agreement, Americans will be able to send $6000 more a year to people in Cuba (Cubans, on average, earn just $17 a month). And more Americans will be about to travel to Cuba — and return with up to $400 worth of goods for personal use. That includes — you guessed it — up to $100 worth of Cuban cigars.

Not everyone is cheering the agreement. But those opposing the deal, led by Sen. Marco Rubio, are offering arguments rooted in hypocrisy. Rubio has vowed to “make every effort to block this dangerous and desperate attempt,” and states that the “new policy is based on an illusion, on a lie.” But this outcry contradicts his own faith in the power of free market economies to introduce Cubans to an American-style economy and spread freedom as Republicans usually argue it would.

BOTTOM LINE: An historic agreement between the United States and Cuba and brokered by the Pope has freed American political prisoners and will chart a new course in relations between the two countries. The era of isolation did not help spread democracy or improve human rights; a new approach that values diplomatic engagement and the empowerment of Cuban civil society is the right way to go.

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