It ain’t over till it’s over. President Obama’s dramatic move to reposition the United States in its relationship with Cuba is brilliant and has the potential to rejuvenate his presidency.
Most of the people upset with the president’s new Cuba policy are older, hard line Cubans in Florida, a relatively small group but one used to having a powerful voice. That said, they never vote for Democrats anyway. But what they do is make Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio support the totally ineffectual and outdated Cold War anti-Cuba policy. Younger Cubans welcome the opening of Cuba. Farmers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce do as well. Corporate America has been salivating about Cuba for decades. And Latin America is ecstatic.
This move of diplomacy by Obama had an eclectic mix of participants. It is widely thought that Pope Francis was instrumental in this thawing of relations between the two countries. Being from Argentina, he has credibility in Latin America and thus had Cuba listening. Likewise, for Obama, it would be difficult to imagine someone to partner with who could possibly have better standing in the world than Francis. It’s especially ironic that the older Cubans who oppose Obama’s move are likely to be Catholics.
It’s also ironic that President Obama enlisted Stephen Harper, the conservative Prime Minister of Canada, to assist in the diplomatic process. These two have never been the best of friends, seemingly lacking a personal chemistry that magnifies their political differences. But in this case Obama thanked Harper for Canada hosting secret meetings between the U.S. and Cuba. Harper, in response, congratulated the two countries for their diplomatic achievement. Kumbaya. By this one move, Obama has just about all constituencies on board and receiving recognition and respect.
There will be the well intentioned critics who will point to the many violations of human rights in Cuba. But opening up Cuba to the United States has the very real possibility of improving the lives of Cubans by improving the economy and by gaining greater access to the internet. Both have the potential to empower the Cuban people. And the wild card here are the Cubans in the U.S., which includes the older set opposed to the Obama policy. Once the proverbial camel’s noise is under the tent, Cuba will never be the same. People in Cuba are America’s brothers and sisters. They are not in some far-off land, in a culture distant and unknown to us. They are us. Providing an opening for Cubans could be a game-changer, for that opening just might be the opening of the floodgates.