Cuba Change We Can Believe In

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December 18, 2014

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This is change we can believe in. The comprehensive diplomatic and economic reforms announced on Wednesday, December 17, by President Barack Obama will have a greater impact on the Cuban people, and our policy goals in the small island nation, than the policies we've tried over the last five decades, says Americas Quarterly senior editor and AS/COA director of policy Alana Tummino. Read her December 18 editorial for U.S. News & World Report below.

Cuba Change We Can Believe In

It’s what you don’t expect to wake up to on a mild December morning: Alan Gross has boarded a plane home from Havana, and President Barack Obama is slated to give remarks that would finally restore normalized relations with Cuba.

Change you can believe in? I’ll say amen to that.

The release of Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor (on the first day of Hanukkah, no less), is a long-awaited and welcome return, signaling one of the more important shifts in U.S. and Cuba policy in more than 50 years.

If Obama had only announced the release of Gross, that would have been enough. But he went further.

In an effort to move toward normalizing diplomatic and economic relations with the island just 90 miles off U.S. shores, Obama announced a comprehensive list of reforms that the U.S. will make in its policy toward Cuba. They include everything from finally reopening the U.S. embassy in Havana as part of normalizing diplomatic relations to re-examining Cuba’s designation to the State Sponsor of Terrorism list, expanding travel under general licenses, and increasing commerce and telecommunications. All of the above are executive action reforms that we at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas have been advocating for years.

While I am elated by the news, perhaps it shouldn’t have been so shocking. Changing attitudes toward Cuba have been brewing for years. Just this past year, polls demonstrated that a majority of Americans and an even larger percentage of Floridians favor a change of U.S. policy toward Cuba, signaling that even in the traditionally conservative Cuban-American population, views are changing. Countries just 90 miles apart have been unnecessarily separated by “mutually belligerent policies,” as eloquently stated by Gross upon his release, and normalized political and economic relations are long overdue.

These changes come at a crucial time of reform in Cuba. On my three trips to Cuba in the past two years (yes, authorized and licensed travel by the U.S. Treasury Department), I have made a number of meaningful and lasting relationships with the Cuban people. Walking the streets of Havana shows you the real Cuba behind the headlines and rhetoric.

We met men and women of all ages showing their ingenuity and creativity through their newly opened private businesses. Private restaurants, coffees shops, nail salons, cell phone repair shops and auto shops line the winding streets of Habana Vieja and the business district of Vedado, to the streets of Santa Clara and Camagüey. These businesses exist in part due to President Raul Castro’s 2011 reforms, which allowed a non-state sector to operate on a larger scale than ever before in Cuba; they were bolstered by Obama’s reforms in 2009 and 2011, which authorized increased remittances and travel.

Yet, these reforms have not meant that the Cuban people and new Cuban entrepreneurs do not face challenges. The reforms that Obama announced will provide a much-needed lifeline to this nascent private sector.

A difficult and ever-changing Cuban regulatory framework makes support from American peers and family members that much more meaningful and necessary to not only survive, but to thrive. The almost half a million — and growing — private Cuban businesses will be the beneficiaries of an expanded American policy that allows increased remittances, increased travel and access to finance and goods, helping to overcome precisely the kinds of obstacles facing the Cuban people and their small businesses today.

A friend and Cuban business owner, Nidialys Acosta, elatedly told me that the “reestablishing of relations between the two countries has been a Christmas gift for Nostalgicar,” a small business that restores and rents out classic Chevrolets. With the opening of relations, car parts will be easier to obtain and the influx of visitors to the island will boost business.

This is change we can believe in. These measures will have a greater impact on the Cuban people, and our policy goals in the small island nation, than the policies we've tried over the last five decades.

 




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