The moment is ripe for the U.S. to normalize relations with Cuba. Will the president fear doing so because it would ignite another round of criticism about socialistic leanings and kow-towing to dictators? Or will politics, specifically the all-important Electoral College prize of Florida, where Cuban exiles still have some voting influence, trump good policy?
If President Barack Obama wanted to launch a bold but simple post-midterm election initiative, reaching out to Cuba fits the bill. It could be couched as part of that all-important effort to grow the economy. The National Pork Producers Council has urged the House of Representatives to pass HR 4645, which would allow U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba (such travel now is banned, though many Americans fly to Canada then on to Cuba). It also would allow direct transfers of funds from Cuban banks to U.S. banks for certain products. The pork producers council estimates that annual U.S. pork exports would increase by $28 million if the embargo were lifted. That is one of many export sectors that could benefit from a new market in the Caribbean nation.
If old Cold War hawks in Congress are leery of warming up a relationship with the nation that precipitated a nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union, they might consider a recent statement by semiretired Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Mr. Castro, in speaking with a journalist from the Atlantic magazine, admitted that “the Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.”
The Atlantic further reported that current leader Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother, “is already loosening the state’s hold on the economy. He recently announced, in fact, that small businesses can now operate and that foreign investors could now buy Cuban real estate.” But Americans are not allowed to invest in Cuba, according to U.S. law. “In other words, Cuba is beginning to adopt the sort of economic ideas that America has long demanded it adopt, but Americans are not allowed to participate in this free-market experiment because of our government’s hypocritical and stupidly self-defeating embargo policy,” the Atlantic reports.
Beyond the economic benefits to the U.S. industry, Cuba could become the centerpiece of a new mentoring policy with other Caribbean and Central American nations. As has been seen in China, incomes rise, a middle class emerges and it suddenly yearns to buy goods, services and products that the U.S. can produce — and easily ship.
As long as human rights, worker rights and environmental standards are met, the region is a logical target for U.S. development help. A growing Caribbean and Central America can only help the U.S. reduce its trade deficit.