Finally, a Breakthrough on Cuba?

Well, this was unexpected news (per a report from the New York Times‘ Peter Baker and Randal Archibold):

The United States will open talks with Cuba aimed at restoring full diplomatic relations and opening an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half century after the release of an American contractor held in prison for five years, American officials said Wednesday.

President Obama plans to make a televised statement from the White House at noon about the breakthrough, which opens the door to a major international initiative that could help shape his legacy heading into his final two years in office.

Mr. Gross, who has been serving a 15-year sentence in a Cuban prison for trying to bring Internet services to Cuba, was released and put on an American government airplane bound for the United States, officials said. His captivity has been a longstanding obstacle to Mr. Obama’s desire to transform relations with the island nation.

A more durable obstacle, of course, has been the 29 electoral votes of Florida, and the belief that a highly politically engaged Cuban-American community would wreak vengeance on any president or party who dared to refuse to repeat the stale pieties of Cold War anti-Castro rhetoric. Obama’s carried the state twice now, despite making it reasonably clear he believed it was time for a change in U.S.-Cuba relations, and a combination of generational change in the Cuban community and broader demographic shifts (e.g., the influx of Puerto Rican and South American people who have blurred Cuban-American leadership of the Florida Latino population) has made the issue less instantly toxic.

We’ll see how far Obama is willing to go in just over an hour. And it will also be interesting to hear what would-be presidents from Florida Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio (not to mention another Cuban-American from Texas, Ted Cruz) have to say.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.