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US shift on Cuba with geopolitical impact across Latin America and the world


US shift on Cuba with geopolitical impact across Latin America and the world

President Obama’s landmark decision to normalise relations with Cuba will stand out as one of his most significant, writes Darrell Delamaide in Washington. Reversing more than a half-century of US foreign policy and implementing the end of the US embargo will require an act of Congress. But in the meantime the two countries will exchange ambassadors, ease travel restrictions, and reduce the obstacles to trade as much as possible.

‘Neither the American nor the Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born,’ said Obama, who was born in 1961, two years after Fidel Castro took power. ‘These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.’

The most immediate effect will be to improve relations between the US and other Latin American countries. US policy toward Cuba has been a festering sore, poisoning bilateral relations and impeding hemispheric collaboration. The shift aims to ‘begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas,’ Obama said.

The announcement came ahead of Obama’s early January trip to Mexico for a meeting with President Nieto and the Summit of the Americas in April in Panama. Brazil’s President Rousseff announced at the New Year that she will use 2015 to make a Brazilian president’s first state visit to the US in two decades.

There is also a wider international geopolitical context. The shift exploited the vulnerability of Cuba’s erstwhile patrons, Russia and Venezuela, as plummeting oil prices weakened these energy exporters. In an effect that will be noted across Europe, Obama managed to score further points against Russian President Vladimir Putin over his incursion into Ukraine. Republican lawmakers catering to the Cuban exiles who are an important voting bloc in Florida will fight a rearguard action against Obama. But polls show most Americans – especially Latinos and even second-generation Cuban-Americans – are in favour of the change.

Darrell Delamaide, member of the OMFIF Board of Editors, is a writer and editor based in Washington.