For 57 years, Cuba has been a political thorn in the side of the United States, a thump poked in Uncle Sam’s eye, a splinter the U.S. can’t seem to expunge.
Now, things are changing, at least on the surface.
Our intimate relationship with Cuba goes back to the 19th Century when we helped free the island from Spanish control and helped it win independence. Well, theoretical independence, anyway. It wasn’t long before the United States began to dominate the new nation and American business — legitimate and otherwise — began to dominate its economy. By the end of the 1950’s, the Mafia practically ran Havana and big American businesses ran just about every other enterprise.
Enter Fidel Castro, a hero at first to many Americans who quickly became a Cold War villain when he began to show Communist tendencies and removed all doubt by embracing the Soviet Union which supported his regime and helped try and spread it to other parts of Latin America.
When American attempts to overthrow Castro ended in defeat and humiliation at the Bay of Pigs, Castro and the Soviets became convinced America had not abandoned its plans for a military solution so the Soviets responded by putting offensive nuclear missiles on the island, a mere 90miles from Florida.
When President John Kennedy imposed a naval blockade of Cuba — a recognized act of war — the world came as close as we hope it ever does to nuclear war. A political deal that traded Soviet missiles in Cuba for obsolete American ones in Turkey ended the crisis. America chose to continue economic warfare with an embargo that continues to this day.
Recently President Barack Obama went to Cuba to declare the formal end of the Cold War in the Western Hemisphere. It was about time.
I am not exactly a fan of Obama but I’m not one of those offensive opponents either. I watched the president’s speech to a Havana assembly and thought it was the best foreign policy address he ever made — direct, honest, piercing and hopeful.
I understand the emotions involved from those who can’t let go of the past, but it’s past time to look to the future. We cannot ever hope to influence or help any country move toward an open, free society unless we engage it. The embargo and the estrangement have not worked which means they will never work. Both need to be abandoned.
It is true Cuba still has a poor human-rights record, but we can best exert influence to change that if we lead by example on the ground in Cuba with American visitors leading the way. We won the Cold War in Europe so there is no reason to think we cannot win it in our own backyard.
I have no hesitation to say that I was moved by Obama’s remarks to his Cuban audience. His Cuban policy will bear fruit in the future that will benefit both countries. I thought his approach was his finest hour ... and America’s, too.
Barry Peel, a retired television news reporter, is a commentator for the Hometown Radio Network in Danville.