Dan Glickman is vice president and executive director of the Aspen Institute Congressional Program. Below, Glickman, former US Secretary of Agriculture and Congressman, reacts to today’s White House announcement normalizing US-Cuba relations.
I applaud President Barack Obama for restoring full diplomatic relations with Cuba and beginning the conversation about lifting the failed 50-year embargo. Normalizing relations is the right thing to do and allows us to cooperate with our neighborhood nation on important issues like immigration flows, agriculture exports, environmental policy, narcotics, and human trafficking.
The president’s foreign policy decisions have been heavily criticized for their strategic value and lack of coherency, but in the case of Cuba his actions are pure realism. An honest review of the embargo against Cuba would yield little in the way of results and perhaps good arguments that it has been counterproductive in achieving a more fair and democratic government in the island nation.
Almost all formerly communist nations have moved away from communist economic policies as a result of free market participation. This has often also led to democratized societies and more freedom worldwide. Imposing sanctions can work in some circumstances, like in Apartheid South Africa, and recently bringing Iran to the nuclear negotiating table. But in Cuba all it has done is prevent the Cuban people from seeing and understanding the benefits of liberalized economic policies and free societies. If the president can urge Congress to fully lift the embargo, there could be a huge boom in the tourism industry that would benefit consumers and businesses in both the US and Cuba.
Before the embargo, Cuban cities were popular destinations for Americans seeking a warm, sunny vacation. My parents went on their honeymoon in Havana in 1937. When I travelled to Cuba in 2002 as part of a cultural exchange delegation we met with former Cuban President Fidel Castro. In the meeting, I told him that my parents honeymooned here but I wasn’t born until several years later so I wasn’t conceived in Cuba. He replied that I wasn’t conceived, but I was contemplated.
All parties stand to benefit from the normalization of relations and would benefit even more from an end to the embargo. Trade flows between Cuba and the United States will benefit business, manufacturing, agriculture exports, and international diplomacy.
Our nation’s reputation in the western hemisphere has been hamstrung by our Cuba policy for a generation, but with today’s actions the United States can head into the 2015 Summit of the Americas with the burden of this outdated policy lifted and with brighter hope for more productivity and American-led cooperation in the western hemisphere. Ending the embargo is long overdue, and Obama deserves credit for making a big step in the right direction.