By Louis A. PEREZ JR.
The United States needs to change its policy toward Cuba.
For nearly 55 years, over the course of 11 successive U.S. presidential administrations, Washington has treated Havana with hostility — from the Bay of Pigs invasion and the assassination attempts on Fidel Castro to the economic embargo that remains in place to this very day.
This strategy hasn’t worked.
Perhaps the stars have aligned to point to a different approach, one of engagement based on the proposition of mutual respect.
The new secretary of state, John Kerry, has recognized that change is necessary. “We cling to a policy that has manifestly failed for nearly 50 years,” Kerry wrote in 2009, adding: “For 47 years, our embargo in the name of democracy has produced no democracy at all.”
As a senator, Kerry long supported freedom of U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba openly, without restrictions.
The restoration of the constitutional right of Americans to travel would represent an excellent start.
Removing Cuba from the list of states sponsoring terrorism also would provide an opening to a new approach.
Like Kerry, the new secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, also has been a nonbeliever in the efficacy of the embargo.
“Our Cuba policy is outdated and ineffective,” Hagel insisted as early as 1999, “and not relevant for the next century.” Nothing indicates that Hagel has changed his mind.
Far-reaching changes are occurring in Havana. The selection of 52-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel as first vice president — a position that designates him as direct successor to President Raul Castro — portends a generational change. The age of the Castros is coming to an end. Surely that suggests the possibility of a new beginning.
And the Cubans have indicated a willingness to engage in discussions with the United States toward a new approach.
These are propitious circumstances, and seem to offer an occasion for resolving one of the enduring conundrums of U.S. foreign policy. Now may be the time, for the stars do not remain aligned for too long.
Louis A. Perez Jr. is J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor in the Department of History and director of the Institute for the Study of the Americas at the University of North Carolina. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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