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Editorial: New chapter begins for U.S., Cuba

Last modified: 12/18/2014 12:38:00 AM
The 1962 Cuban missile crisis remains one of the most terrifying episodes in modern American history. It seemed then that it was only a matter of time before the United States and the Soviet Union would engage in the world’s first – and likely only – all-out nuclear war. The fear that the Cold War could at any moment become explosive lasted through the mid-1980s, and Cuba, that volatile little island just 90 miles south of Florida, loomed as a nightmare with first-strike capability.

Now more than 50 years since President Kennedy severed diplomatic ties with Cuba, the world is a very different place. On Wednesday, President Obama acknowledged that fact in dramatic fashion by announcing that the U.S. would begin to normalize relations with Cuba.

The effort will begin immediately and ultimately include a U.S. embassy in Havana. Obama, in a nationally televised speech, said the two nations would also begin to work together on issues of mutual concern, such as health, migration, terrorism, drug trafficking and disaster response. Secretary of State John Kerry will also review and reconsider Cuba’s inclusion on the list of nations that sponsor terrorism.

Obama said travel and banking restrictions also would be eased, and steps will be taken to increase commerce between the two nations.

The policy shift also marks an end to the five-year imprisonment of American contractor Alan Gross, as well as an unnamed American intelligence agent. In exchange, the United States released three Cuban agents held since 2001.

What Obama cannot do without congressional action is lift a trade embargo that Cuba claims has resulted in total economic damages of more than a trillion dollars. While many lawmakers will resist lifting the blockade – Florida Sen. Marco Rubio called normalized relations “another concession to tyranny” – they should realize that the president is right to look to the future rather than back toward an unrecognizable past. It makes little sense to base foreign policy on a world that no longer exists, and there are more effective ways to influence undemocratic societies than blindly clinging to an ineffective strategy of isolation.

The time has come for the United States and Cuba to begin healing old wounds and building a future that benefits the people of that long-suffering island and their friends and family who fled long ago. Obama should be applauded for allowing that process to begin.


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