President Obama is expected to give speech today at noon detailing new efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, and Cuban President Raul Castro will give his own speech at the same time, in what could be the start of a new era of American-Cuban relations (h/t Katie Little at CNBC). There are also reports that American development worker Alan Gross is on his way home after spending five years in a Cuban prison on espionage charges, in what appears to be a gesture of goodwill.
Political justification for embargo is fading
The US embargo began in a weaker form in 1960, and was strengthened in 1962, a few years after Fidel Castro overthrew the US backed Batista regime. It has remained in place even after most remnants of the Cold War have gone because it’s one of those issues where one side, namely Cuban exiles in Florida, had been passionately in favor of the embargo, whether wasn’t a constituency equally passionately opposed to it. Since Florida is an important swing state, neither political party has been willing to risk alienating those important voters.
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But support for the embargo has apparently faded over time, and with just two years left in his presidency, Obama isn’t necessarily being driven by electoral politics anyways.
Obama needs Congress to end the embargo completely
We’ll find out what President Obama has planned in a couple of hours, but it seems like he doesn’t have the authority to simply end the embargo without going through Congress, although he might go further than people anticipate considering his recent executive order on immigration reform. Whatever he does, it’s hard to imagine him relying on the incoming Republican Congress to work with him. The prospect of denouncing Obama for talking to one of the last communist regimes will be in easy target for a new Congress looking to please its voter base.
For Cuba’s part of the reason that it might be more willing to make concessions now is that falling oil prices threaten to destabilize Venezuela, which could threaten the cheap oil the Venezuela sends to Cuba on a regular basis. If the Venezuelan government decides that it has bigger concerns than taking care of its neighbors, Cuba may have no choice but to improve relations with the US.