Cuba has long been in the shadow of the United States. Perhaps that’s why it has been so difficult to figure out our relationship with this island nation a tad over 100 miles from Key West, Fla.
In many ways, our shadow has been shaped by events that took place some 50 years ago. This week is the anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the events that had the United States and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the verge of unleashing a nuclear war. It pitted the John F. Kennedy administration against that of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in a true heavyweight contest. At the time, it appeared that the Soviets were the first to back down, but as the public is now aware, there was plenty of behind-the-scenes diplomacy and what would be called compromise — resulting in the removal of missiles from Cuba while the U.S. would withdraw its own Jupiter rockets based in Turkey.
And Cuba? The U.S. continues to hold the country and its communist government at arm’s length. It’s been a 50-year policy of trying to isolate Cuba and force the toppling of the regime headed by Fidel Castro, whose own shadow casts a pall over the nation and relations with its neighbor to the north. Meanwhile, Castro, kept a tight hold on the country and created a restrictive society for its citizens, a policy his brother, now in power, has changed but little.
But after some 50 years, the light may be shifting, causing our long shadow to change.
Cuban officials have announced the decision to loosen up their exit visa policy. While the change is far from perfect — the segment of society made up of athletes, scientists and other professionals will still fall under the old rules that deny much freedom of movement — this is a significant step for average Cubans looking to leave.
Maybe with this shift the U.S. needs to alter its own policy. After a half century, and the lessons learned during that time, we need to try a different approach to influencing Cuba. If we loosen our own restrictions when it comes to travel and business, we would likely see the growth of democracy there as well.