The business between the U.S. and Cuba was deadly serious, in the Manichaean world of the Cold War more than 50 years ago. The presence of a Communist country 90 miles from Florida made American leaders apoplectic. After a bungled CIA-sponsored invasion of the island failed in 1961, Russia's placement of missiles in Cuba brought the world to the brink of nuclear war in 1962.
But in the decades since, the antagonism became a Cold War anachronism, like one of those hill country clan feuds that go on for generations. If the idea of breaking off diplomatic relations and imposing a trade embargo — started by President Eisenhower in 1960-61, before President Obama was born — was to rid Cuba of the Castro brothers and bring democracy to the country, it must be judged a spectacular failure, the diplomatic equivalent of the Bay of Pigs invasion. The brothers have outlasted 10 U.S. presidents and are still running an oppressive dictatorial regime (though as the rapprochement with the U.S. indicates, there are real signs of change).
So, all credit to Mr. Obama for finally moving to Plan B. The president ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba and the opening of an embassy in Havana, along with a loosening of some trade and travel restrictions. The announcement followed a prisoner swap arranged with the help of Pope Francis.
"We have been waiting years for this," said Cuban-born poet Bessy Reyna, one of many prominent Cuban Americans to settle in Connecticut. "It comes not a moment too soon. People there are desperate and it's not just the regime, it's the lack of everything because of the embargo," she wrote in an email. A survey by CTLatinoNews.com found many of the state's 10,000 Cuban Americans hopeful about the change, including state Sen. Art Linares, whose grandparents fled the island decades ago.
But there is also opposition, notably from some of the lawmakers who must decide on what's left of the embargo. U.S. Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J., who was born in Cuba, said in a radio interview that he supported the embargo because it "is the only weapon that we have to pressure the Cuban government to stop the repression in Cuba."
Well, no, it isn't. We have, for all its faults, a free society with a successful economy. Democracy travels better by imitation than imposition. The latter hasn't worked. Let's see if more exposure to the Internet, Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN and the Bill of Rights nudge Cubans toward democratization.