Forum: New policy opens gate way to Cuba

Donna Rich Kaplowitz

At long last, President Obama has done what no U.S. president in the last 50 years had the courage and intellect to do. After half a century, the White House has determined that a policy of isolation and punishment toward Cuba failed to achieve its goals of bringing democracy to the island. Instead, this week Obama announced plans to normalize relations with our closest enemy. This meteoric shift in U.S. foreign policy promises to be one of President Obama’s finest hours.

Over the last 30 years, I have visited Cuba dozens of times. I’ve met with Fidel and Raul Castro, and I’ve spent time with Cuban dissidents, religious leaders, diplomats, military, poets, musicians, exiles, educators and youth. I’ve also testified before the U.S. Senate, met with U.S. government and business officials, published books on U.S.-Cuban relations and taught Cuba courses at Michigan State University.

For decades, I’ve watched with exasperation as the United States prolonged a foreign policy based on the erroneous assumption that punishing our neighbor will force Cuba to capitulate to out demands. No foreign policy has failed more dramatically for longer time than our policy toward Cuba, and yet ten presidents have insisted that isolation of Cuba is the only way to convert Cuba into a capitalist democracy. Obama’s fresh tactic of engagement will yield fruits forbidden to previous executives.

The original architects of the embargo during John Kennedy’s administration hoped that a policy of economic and political isolation would foment internal dissent on the island and lead Cubans to overthrow their leader. Rather than inciting rebellion, that policy provided the Castro brothers with a rallying point for the revolution and a scapegoat for decades of difficulty faced by the Cuban people.

Obama’s novel approach of normalized relations will do far more to help both the Cuban people and the U.S. public than any president in the last 50 years. Direct contact between Cubans and American citizens will flood the island with a free exchange of ideas. Opening trade opportunities in telecommunications will allow Cubans easier access to the internet and afford U.S. businesses new opportunities in Cuba. Economists predict that American businesses stand to gain over $1.2 billion annually when trade is resumed between the two countries. Fledgling private Cuban enterprises will flourish with direct trade opportunities. Finally, normalizing relations with Cuba will improve our relations with countries the world over who have condemned America’s Cuba policy for the last 18 years at the annual vote in the United Nations.

To the handful of naysayers who want to cling to a familiar and failed policy in the hopes that somehow, in the next decade, the antiquated policy will finally yield results, I have only this to say: History will absolve Obama.

About the author: Donna Rich Kaplowitz is an assistant professor in the Residential College of Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University. She has researched and written about U.S. policy toward Cuba for 30 years, traveled to Cuba over two dozen times and leads MSU study programs to the island

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by emailing letters@record-eagle. com. Please include biographical information and a photo. 

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