President Obama announced in December that the United States would pursue a new strategy towards Cuba. What did this relationship look like in the past and how will it change in the future?
Since the Cold War in the early 1960s, the relationship between Cuba and the United States has been frozen. Cuba’s economic relationship with the Soviet Union, Fidel Castro’s communist beliefs and the Cuban Missile Crisis all led the U.S. to sever economic and diplomatic ties with Cuba. But after more than 50 years, President Obama and Raul Castro, president of Cuba and brother to Fidel Castro, announced Dec. 17, 2014 that the diplomatic ties between their respective countries would be restored. This announcement was prefaced by the release of a U.S. contractor who was being held in Havana.
Obama has been working to restore relations with Cuba since 2009. He removed some of the travel restrictions placed by his predecessors, which allows Cuban-American families to send unlimited amounts of money to each other, as well as some travel for religious and educational purposes. In 2013, President Obama began secret talks between Cuba and the United States that were brokered by Pope Francis. As a result of these talks, President Obama announced a new relationship between the United States and Cuba that was inaugurated with a prisoner exchange between the two countries.
Restoring the diplomatic ties between these two countries has also reduced U.S. economic and travel sanctions on Cuba. U.S. citizens no longer need a government license to travel to Cuba and airlines are now allowed to offer flights to Cuba. U.S. travelers will have healthcare coverage when traveling to Cuba and are allowed to use their debit and credit cards in Cuba.
The State department is facilitating talks with Cuban officials about reestablishing diplomatic relations. These talks are the first step to establishing embassies and exchanging diplomats. The first round of talks started Jan. 22 2015 and the second round begins Feb. 27, 2015.
In addition, the State Department is reviewing the status of Cuba on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terror. The State Department will issue a report on current and potential Cuban support for terrorism in four to five months.
Congress holds control over lifting the economic sanctions. In order to lift U.S. economic sanctions on Cuba, Congress would have to repeal the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act. This act was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 and was intended to promote democracy and capitalism in Cuba through economic and diplomatic sanctions. Proponents of President Obama’s new Cuba policy argue that this act is ineffective, outdated and should be replaced with diplomatic and economic relations.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is an opponent of President Obama’s policy shift.
“This notion that somehow being able to travel more to Cuba, to sell more consumer products, the idea that it’s going to lead to some democratic opening is absurd,” said Rubio.
He is among many Republicans who have denounced Obama’s attempts at restoring diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba.
Rick Scott, governor of Florida, has concerns about Congress lifting the embargo.
“As long as Cuba chooses dictatorship over democracy, I will continue to support the embargo and sanctions against them,” said Scott.
However, there are a few who are ignoring party lines and supporting Obama’s actions. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who helped facilitate the release of a government contractor being held in Cuba, said that stopping Obama’s moves would be “counterproductive.”
“The policy that we’ve had in place for the past 50 years has done more in my view…. to keep the Castro regimes in power than anything we could’ve done,” said Flake.
A recent poll done by the “Washington Post” and ABC News of in December 2014 shows that 64 percent of Americans support the U.S. restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba and 68 percent of Americans support ending the economic embargo. 74 percent of Americans support lessening travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba.
The poll surveyed 1,000 randomly-chosen adults, and the results are not always aligned with party lines, as 49 percent of Republicans are in support of the U.S. restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba and 57 percent of Republicans support ending the economic embargo against Cuba.
As the talks between Cuba and United States continue, it is expected that Obama will continue to use the State Department and executive action to push for an increased diplomatic and economic relationship between the two countries.