A break with the past on Cuba

A BREAK WITH THE PAST ON CUBA…. President Obama was quite forthcoming during the campaign about how he would change a failed U.S. policy towards Cuba, breaking with decades of bipartisan support for an approach that obviously didn’t work. Today, the president will do exactly what he said he’d do.

President Obama will announce today that he is lifting some restrictions on Cuban Americans’ contact with Cuba and allowing U.S. telecom companies to operate there, opening up the communist island nation to more cellular and satellite service, a senior White House official said.

The decision does not lift the trade embargo on Cuba but eases the prohibitions that have restricted Cuban Americans from visiting their relatives and has limited what they can send back home.

It also allows companies to establish fiber-optic and satellite links between the United States and Cuba and will permit U.S. companies to be licensed for roaming agreements in Cuba.

Communications of those kinds have been prohibited under tough rules put in place by George W. Bush’s administration to pressure for democratic change in the island nation.

But under the new policy promoted by Obama, satellite radio companies and television providers will also be able to enter into transactions necessary to provide service to Cuban citizens.

Good. The hardline restrictions imposed by the Bush administration, which only followed in the footsteps of restrictions imposed by every other modern president, moved U.S. policy in precisely the wrong direction. The result, not surprisingly, was more of the same. Obama’s break with the past is far more likely to pay dividends.

Alex Koppelman added, “It’s the kind of thing that might have been politically risky at one point, but the power of the Cuban exile community in Florida has been lessening of late as the oldest among them die off and Latinos from other countries move in to the state.”

Quite right. I’d add that even among Cuban Americans, there have been growing fissures in recent years over the utility of sticking with a decades-old policy that hasn’t produced any progress at all. When Bush took a very hard line on travel and remittances, it’s not as if the Cuban-American community was unanimous in its support. Just the opposite is true.

As a result, Obama, as a candidate, took a chance with the truth and offered the most progressive policy towards Cuba of any major-party candidate in decades. It didn’t hurt him at all in Florida.

It’s almost as if this was a “third rail” of sorts in presidential politics. I’m glad Obama grabbed it — and lived to tell the tale.

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