Normalizing ties would be smart policy and politics.
Bringing an end to the decades-old US-Cuba embargo is no longer just a noble but hopeless idea. Conditions have changed to the point where restoring normal economic ties would make for smart policy – and savvy politics.
Even as Cubans recover from hurricanes Gustav and Ike, their desire to end the embargo remains strong. In rejecting a modest initial offer of US aid on Sept. 4, Cuban President Raúl Castro called instead for the whole enchilada of normalized economic relations. The United States is equally resolute in its nearly 50-year-old opposition to the socialist dictatorship. As simply put by the CATO Institute, Washington's chief rationale for the embargo has been to "compel a democratic transformation" in Cuba.
Yet common ground exists. In broad terms, both sides want national security and economic opportunity. Now is the time to pursue those shared interests. Mutually beneficial opportunities in three areas – agricultural trade, energy development, and immigration – could provide the foundation for a postembargo relationship.
For years, US farmers have lobbied Congress – only somewhat successfully – to open Cuban markets, which are lucrative and feature low transportation costs. Both sides could realize benefits from greater liberalization: relaxed payment options for cash-strapped Cuba and the end of licenses and quotas for US farmers. Despite the embargo, the US is Cuba's largest supplier of food and its sixth-largest trading partner.