But Obama’s approach is the antithesis of the politics of hate and division. He broke that mold last year, making big gains among the Cuban American electorate. This result suggested the polarized ethnically-based politics of the past may be breaking down, said Julia Sweig of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations in a recent article in The National Interest.
“Having won nearly half of the Cuban American vote in Florida in 2012, a gain of 15 percentage points over 2008, Obama can move quickly on Cuba. If he were to do so, he would find a cautious but willing partner in Raúl Castro, who needs rapprochement with Washington to advance his own reform agenda,” Sweig said.
Little wonder Republicans like Ros-Lehtinen are worried. If things go on like this, they could lose a large piece of their political raison d’etre.
There are other reasons for believing the time is right for Obama to end the Cuba stalemate. The recent death of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s influential president, has robbed Havana of a strong supporter, both political and financial.
Chavez was not interested in a rapprochement with the U.S., either by Cuba or Venezuela. His revolutionary beliefs did not allow for an accommodation with the American “imperialists.” His successors may not take so militant a line, especially given that Venezuela continues to trade heavily with the U.S., a privilege not allowed Cuba.
The so-called “pink tide” that has brought several left-wing leaders to power in Latin America in the past decade is not exactly on the ebb, but the hostility countries such as Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia felt towards the Bush administration has abated. In fact, according to Sweig’s article, U.S. business with Latin America as a whole is booming, up 20% in 2011. The U.S. imports more crude oil from Venezuela and Mexico than from the Persian Gulf, including Saudi Arabia. The U.S. does three times more business with Latin America than with China.
The stand-off over Cuba is an obstacle to advancing U.S. interests and business in Latin American countries, and vice versa. The continuation of the embargo has left the U.S. almost totally isolated at the United Nations, and at sharp odds with its major allies, including Britain and the EU.
But more importantly, the continued ostracism of Cuba’s people — for they, not the Havana government, are the biggest losers — is unfair, unkind and unnecessary. If the U.S. wants full democracy in Cuba, then it should open up fully to ordinary Cubans. Tear down the artificial walls that separate the people of the two countries and, as Mao Zedong once said, let a hundred flowers bloom.
Editor’s note: Simon Tisdall is assistant editor and foreign affairs columnist of the Guardian. He was previously foreign editor of the Guardian and the Observer and served as White House correspondent and U.S. editor in Washington D.C..