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One is that George W. Bush has been replaced by a Democrat.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
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2323 GMT (0723 HKT)
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
April 13, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1906 GMT (0306 HKT)
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1649 GMT (0049 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
April 12, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1731 GMT (0131 HKT)
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 2128 GMT (0528 HKT)
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1839 GMT (0239 HKT)
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT