U.S.-Cuba Relations Normalized

It’s official (per NBC’s Halimah Abdullah):

President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the United States and Cuba have struck a deal to open embassies in each other’s capitals and re-establish diplomatic relations for the first time in half a century.

“The progress we make today is another demonstration we don’t have to be imprisoned by the past,” Obama said.

Obama emphasized that the U.S. and Cuba have some shared interests, such as strong anti-terror policies and disaster response. But he acknowledged that the two nations still have “very serious differences” on issues like free speech.

“We won’t hesitate to speak out when we see contradiction to those values,” the president said.

According to a statement from the Cuban government, officials are aiming to re-open their embassy on or after July 20. White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told MSNBC that the U.S. will open its embassy in Cuba “shortly after” July 20.

If recent experience is any indication, every major Republican figure in the country other than Rand Paul will denounce this step all over again, with varying degrees of heat. At the hottest of all will be Marco Rubio, who seems to have decided that this policy issue is integral to his all-important “personal narrative.”

“Throughout this entire negotiation, as the Castro regime has stepped up its repression of the Cuban people, the Obama administration has continued to look the other way and offer concession after concession,” Rubio said in a statement. “The administration’s reported plan to restore diplomatic relations is one such prized concession to the Castro regime.”

Rubio said he intends to oppose confirmation of an ambassador to Cuba until there is a resolution on such issues as “the return of U.S. fugitives being harbored in Cuba, settling outstanding legal claims to U.S. citizens for properties confiscated by the regime, and in obtaining the unequivocal right of our diplomats to travel freely throughout Cuba and meet with any dissidents, and most importantly, securing greater political freedoms for the Cuban people.”

To sum this message up, it’s “Rubio to Cuba: How about ‘never?’ Does ‘never’ work for you?”

That’s why this could be one “foreign policy issue” that will actually help Democrats in 2016. To pretty much anyone under the age of 50 who doesn’t live in South Florida, the exceptional status of Cuba is really hard to understand and hard for someone like Rubio to explain without all sorts of special pleading. Truth is the U.S. let Cuban relations languish in an increasingly weird time warp so long as older Cuban-American voters held a perceived death grip on Florida’s electoral votes. Those days are as long gone as actual Marxism-Leninism, and now even a Latin-American Pope is trying to convince Americans to stop treating Havana as though it still harbors missiles aimed at Atlanta. The more this subject is discussed, the more ground Marco Rubio loses as a purported agent of generational change in the Republican Party.

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.