Fifty-three years ago, an American-sponsored invasion of communist Cuba failed miserably, leaving more than 100 members of the Cuban-exile force known as Brigade 2506 dead and about 1,200 captured. President John F. Kennedy subsequently promised that the Brigade 2506 flag would one day be returned to a "free Havana."
America has had no more success in fulfilling that vow than in executing the Bay of Pigs invasion that prompted it. Kennedy began the embargo that provided the basis for other sanctions imposed over the years to ruin Fidel Castro's government and economy, but such efforts only strengthened Cuba's resolve against U.S. interference.
Fifty-three years is long enough. It's time to switch the script, which is what President Obama is trying to do. "I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result," Obama said Wednesday in announcing plans to open an embassy in Havana and restore diplomatic relations with Cuba.
The president's executive powers will allow him to take further steps in the spirit of his previously lifting of travel restrictions, which allowed Americans to send cash to family members in Cuba. The United States already has a diplomatic presence in Havana, so opening an official embassy should be no problem. But lifting the 50-year-old embargo is another matter entirely.
Because Kennedy's embargo is now enshrined in statute, it will take an act of Congress to lift it. And the knee-jerk reactions of Sens. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), whose family ties to Cuba make this issue personal, suggest getting Congress to approve Obama's attempted rapprochement will be hard.
But hard does not mean impossible. Unlike other issues whose fate can be calculated according to Congress' partisan divide, Obama's Cuba initiative has supporters and detractors on both sides of the aisle. That Republican senators such as Rand Paul of Kentucky and Jeff Flake of Arizona favor normal relations with Cuba is big.
What Congress can't ignore is that the embargo hasn't worked. Unlike current sanctions against Iran and Russia, the United States' Cuba embargo hasn't been joined by any other countries. With help from Russia and others, Cuba has endured. Fidel Castro is no longer president, but his brother Raul is. And their repressive hold on the nation remains strong.
As Obama pointed out, opening Cuba to increased interaction with Americans will do much more to help its people achieve freedom than continuing to isolate them. Obama has authorized additional telecommunications connections between the two countries that will greatly improve Cubans' access to ideas and information. Normalizing relations will have trade benefits as well, which is why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Farm Bureau favor the initiative.