Skip to main content

Time for U.S. and Cuba to kiss and make up

By Simon Tisdall, Special for CNN
April 8, 2013 -- Updated 1514 GMT (2314 HKT)
Beyoncé and Jay-Z were photographed in Havana last week, apparently celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary.
Beyoncé and Jay-Z were photographed in Havana last week, apparently celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Beyoncé and Jay-Z were seen in Cuba last week, apparently celebrating their anniversary
  • A United States embargo restricts American citizens' right to visit Cuba
  • Simon Tisdall argues the 60-year stand-off between Cuba and the U.S. harms both countries
  • The ostracism of Cuba's people is unfair, unkind and unnecessary, he says

Editor's note: Simon Tisdall is assistant editor and foreign affairs columnist of the Guardian. He was previously foreign editor of the Guardian and the Observer and served as White House corespondent and U.S. editor in Washington D.C..

(CNN) -- Right-wing U.S. Republicans are up in arms over Cuba again. Their ostensible cause for concern is last week's visit to the island by Beyoncé and Jay-Z, who were photographed in Havana, apparently celebrating their wedding anniversary.

Read more: Lawmakers ask why Beyoncé and Jay-Z went to Cuba

These blinkered conservatives need to get over themselves. The 60-year stand-off between the U.S. and Cuba is absurd. It is counterproductive and harmful to both countries. It is time to end this Cold War anachronism, kiss and make up.

Anger over Beyoncé's supposed breach of the U.S. embargo rules restricting American citizens' travel to Cuba is symbolic of a deeper fear among right-wingers. Two key factors have changed since the days -- not so long ago -- when Washington seemed to be regularly threatening the Castro government with Iraq-style overthrow.

Simon Tisdall
Simon Tisdall

One is that George W. Bush has been replaced by a Democrat. As Barack Obama enters his second and final term, immune to electoral imperatives, conservatives worry he may use his freedom of action to effect an historic rapprochement with Cuba. American liberals certainly believe he should do so.

The second change is in Cuba itself, where the government, now led by Fidel Castro's brother, Raoul, has embarked on a cautious program of reform. The government -- dubbed the world's longest-running dictatorship by the American right -- has even set a date for its own dissolution.

Doing what "dictators" rarely do, Raoul Castro announced in February that in 2018, he would hand over power and that any successor would be subject to term limits. The Castro brothers have reportedly chosen a career communist, first vice president Miguel Diaz-Canel, to succeed them. But in reality, once their grip on power is relaxed, anything may happen.

The two Florida Republicans who have been making a fuss about the Beyonce visit are Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart. They are veterans, and beneficiaries, of the anti-Castro campaign that has long been waged from Little Havana, in Miami, the home to the state's large Cuban exile population. The Cuban vote, as it is known, has traditionally gone to Republicans.

Is this Cuba's next president?
Cuban blogger hits the road
Should Cuba sanctions be lifted?
Rep. McGovern:Time to change Cuba policy

But Obama's approach is the antithesis of the politics of hate and division. He broke that mold last year, making big gains among the Cuban American electorate. This result suggested the polarized ethnically-based politics of the past may be breaking down, said Julia Sweig of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations in a recent article in The National Interest.

"Having won nearly half of the Cuban American vote in Florida in 2012, a gain of 15 percentage points over 2008, Obama can move quickly on Cuba. If he were to do so, he would find a cautious but willing partner in Raúl Castro, who needs rapprochement with Washington to advance his own reform agenda," Sweig said.

Little wonder Republicans like Ros-Lehtinen are worried. If things go on like this, they could lose a large piece of their political raison d'etre.

There are other reasons for believing the time is right for Obama to end the Cuba stalemate. The recent death of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's influential president, has robbed Havana of a strong supporter, both political and financial.

Chavez was not interested in a rapprochement with the U.S., either by Cuba or Venezuela. His revolutionary beliefs did not allow for an accommodation with the American "imperialists." His successors may not take so militant a line, especially given that Venezuela continues to trade heavily with the U.S., a privilege not allowed Cuba.

The so-called "pink tide" that has brought several left-wing leaders to power in Latin America in the past decade is not exactly on the ebb, but the hostility countries such as Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia felt towards the Bush administration has abated. In fact, according to Sweig's article, U.S. business with Latin America as a whole is booming, up 20% in 2011. The U.S. imports more crude oil from Venezuela and Mexico than from the Persian Gulf, including Saudi Arabia. The U.S. does three times more business with Latin America than with China.

The stand-off over Cuba is an obstacle to advancing U.S. interests and business in Latin American countries, and vice versa. The continuation of the embargo has left the U.S. almost totally isolated at the United Nations, and at sharp odds with its major allies, including Britain and the EU.

But more importantly, the continued ostracism of Cuba's people -- for they, not the Havana government, are the biggest losers -- is unfair, unkind and unnecessary. If the U.S. wants full democracy in Cuba, then it should open up fully to ordinary Cubans. Tear down the artificial walls that separate the people of the two countries and, as Mao Zedong once said, let a hundred flowers bloom.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Simon Tisdall

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2153 GMT (0553 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Newt Gingrich warns that President Obama's border plan spends too much and doesn't do what is needed
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
Errol Lewis says if it really wants to woo black voters away from the Democrats, the GOP better get behind its black candidates
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2241 GMT (0641 HKT)
Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died so blacks would no longer be viewed as inferior but rather enjoy the same inherent rights given to whites in America.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
Alex Castellanos says recent low approval ratings spell further trouble for the President
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0349 GMT (1149 HKT)
Paul Begala says Boehner's plan to sue Obama may be a stunt for the tea party, or he may be hoping the Supreme Court's right wing will advance the GOP agenda that he could not
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
The rapture is a bizarre teaching in fundamentalist circles, made up by a 19th-century theologian, says Jay Parini. It may have no biblical validity, but is a really entertaining plot device in new HBO series
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1749 GMT (0149 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette: President Obama needs to send U.S. marshals to protect relocating immigrant kids.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says charging the dad in the hot car death case with felony murder, predicated on child neglect, was a smart strategic move.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
Van Jones says our nation is sitting on a goldmine of untapped talent. The tech companies need jobs, young Latinos and blacks need jobs -- so how about a training pipeline?
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
A drug that holds hope in the battle against hepatitis C costs $1,000 per pill. We can't solve a public health crisis when drug makers charge such exorbitant prices, Karen Ignagni says.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1133 GMT (1933 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says our political environment is filled with investigations or accusations of another scandal; all have their roots in the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1814 GMT (0214 HKT)
Sally Kohn says Boehner's lawsuit threat is nonsense that wastes taxpayer money, distracts from GOP's failure to pass laws to help Americans
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Speaker John Boehner says President Obama has circumvented Congress with his executive actions and plans on filing suit against the President this month
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1331 GMT (2131 HKT)
Hands down, it's 'Hard Day's Night,' says Gene Seymour-- the exhilarating, anarchic and really fun big screen debut for the Beatles. It's 50 years old this weekend
July 2, 2014 -- Updated 2201 GMT (0601 HKT)
Belinda Davis says World War I plunged millions of women across the globe into "men's jobs," even as they kept home and hearth. The legacy continues into today.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 1824 GMT (0224 HKT)
Pablo Alvarado says all the children trying to cross the U.S. border shows immigration is a humanitarian crisis that can't be solved with soldiers and handcuffs.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Elizabeth Mitchell says Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi dreamt up the symbolic colossus not for money, but to embody a concept--an artwork to amaze for its own sake. Would anyone do that today?
July 2, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Wendy Townsend says Jamaica sold two protected islands to China for a huge seaport, which could kill off a rare iguana and hurt ecotourism.
ADVERTISEMENT