In the aftermath of President Obama’s decision to normalise relations with Cuba after freezing out the state for 54 years, the political implications of what has been called a bold and historic move become clearer.
In fact, the open talks with Cuba seem a safer rather than a bolder move for the President and his party. The last 10 years has seen America open up more to a state where so many hostilities once existed, from Jimmy Carter’s goodwill visit in 2002 to the 10 member Delegation who arrived in the country in 2006 to discuss ways to end the trade embargo. Since Raul Castro took over in 2008 there has been a feeling that the possibility of better ties between the states was not impossible. Nonetheless it is enough for the Democrats to show that they are taking the moral high ground over an issue that has been continually dodged by successive Governments, not to mention ending a foreign policy that has resulted in 54 years of stalemate and had very little success.
Recent opinion polls have shown that most Americans wanted the freeze out of Cuba ended sooner rather than later. Perhaps this is because Castro is now 87 years old and his legacy has grown old with him, with younger Americans turning their attention to modern day global threats. The tensions with Cuba are a distant memory for most and it is natural that the American public would rather have a potential ally 90 miles from their shores rather than a long standing enemy. By normalising relations, Obama is showing that the Democrats have responded to national public opinion.
However, the biggest question is how it will impact public opinion in the state of Florida, which will be an important electoral battleground in 2016. Florida has a higher population of Cubans than elsewhere in the country, many of whom we would expect to oppose the choice taken by Obama. This is strategically important since Obama was able to win the Cuban American vote in 2012, which usually would have backed the Republicans. Yet, the protest in Miami in opposition to Obama was attended by a mere 250 people, which indicates that the Democrats will not be hit hard in Florida. Again, it shows how only those who witnessed Castro come to power and the various stand offs between the US and Cuba in the 1960s will question why the Government has taken this decision now. Generations of Americans and possibly Cuban Americans who have not grown up around the problems between the two states are less likely to feel the need to speak out against the Government’s decision.
Republicans will attempt to criticise Obama by saying that the Democrats are giving in to the Cubans and are softening US foreign policy. Especially now that Raul Castro has maintained that Cuba’s political system will not change in light of restored relations. For the former President George Bush, who consistently spoke about the need for America to supervise gradual democratisation of Cuba, the policy change is an American loss and therefore Cuba’s victory. However, the weight of this argument is unlikely to damage the Democrats because of the positive response that Obama’s announcement has gained from the rest of the world.
In particular, the Latin American community has overwhelmingly praised the end of Cuban isolation and this could have huge political and economic benefits for America. It is almost like a domino effect, where improved relations with Cuba opens the door to the possibility of better relations with other Latin American states who have stood against the US over the issue in the past.
So, overall this seems like a suitably timed and low risk foreign policy from the Obama administration that gives the Democrats moral credibility. Of course there is opposition but it largely appears few and far between. If anything, it leaves those Republicans who do oppose the restored relations behind the times and shows how the Democrats are willing to change a policy that was not working. In this sense, it is clear that the normalisation of US/Cuban relations won’t hurt the Democrats and may even turn out to be an important move in years to come.
By Jonathan Adamson, Junior Writer for Daily Political View.