The United States and Cuba have been locked in the coldest of relationships for more than half a century. But a new poll suggests that the American people think it's time to warm things up a bit. We agree.
The poll, commissioned by the Washington-based Atlantic Council research group, found that 6 in 10 Americans favor normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba. The numbers are stronger in Florida than in the nation as a whole, and support holds even among Latinos in that state, which is where the bulk of the Cuban expatriate community resides. The poll numbers, along with the findings of other experts, suggest that we may be witnessing a watershed change among the most trenchant critics of the Castro government that came into power in 1959.
It can be problematic to mix polls, but a Florida International University survey just three years ago found that 53% of Cuban Americans in Miami-Dade County opposed ending the 1962 embargo, even though a similar percentage believed the embargo had not been effective, and a majority supported easing restrictions on traveling to and investing in Cuba.
If Cuban Americans are indeed changing their hard-line views, it may be due to a shift in generations, experts say. Americans under age 25 have no personal memory of the Cold War, and for many young Cuban Americans, their parents' or grandparents' exodus are part of family history, not a formative personal experience. They tend not to view Fidel and Raul Castro — who combined have run the country for more than 50 years — as enemies, according to Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank in Washington. Among older Cubans, there is a sense that time is running out, and a desire to see old homesteads and long-missed friends and family.
There are real issues that need to be addressed between the U.S. and Cuba, including the continuing imprisonment of Alan Gross, a U.S. government subcontractor, and Cuba's human rights record. But there are sound political and economic reasons to support normalization. The world has changed radically since the nuclear-freighted tango between the United States and the Soviet Union ended more than 20 years ago. These days, the U.S.-Cuba rift puts us at odds with many of our hemispheric allies and perpetuates the image of the U.S. as an overbearing neighbor. Also, with the economic rise of the European Union, China and Brazil, it is in our national interest to remove a regional roadblock to economic cooperation.
And then there's the human dimension. The embargo has inflicted suffering on the Cuban people for generations and yet has notably failed to achieve its goal of ousting the Castros. It's time to lift it.