The Cleveland Council on World Affairs (CCWA) called the re-establishing diplomatic relations and opening economic and travel ties a positive development. The president’s declaration is the most significant change in U.S. policy toward Cuba in more than 50 years.
“Certainly the embargo on Cuba hasn’t worked over all these years and I personally think it is time to change the relations,” said Heather Hodges, ambassador-in-residence at the Cleveland Council on World Affairs.
While Cuba remains a quasi-dictatorship under the control of Fidel Castro’s brother Raúl, the political reins there appear to be loosening. Cuban expatriates in Ohio and the rest of the U.S. have yearned to spend more time and money in their homeland and it looks like they’ll now have that opportunity to return home for a visit and reconnect with relatives who still live there.
“There’s been a lot of travel through educational programs to Cuba in the past few years,” said Ms. Hodges. “But if this means even more possibilities for [US-]Americans to go or for more Cubans to come to the United States in commercial areas, it should help improve things.”
Despite loosened travel and trade restrictions, however, a long-standing economic embargo will remain in place. Congressional action would be required to change that, which has been in place in one form or another since the early 1960s.
“There’s going to be opposition in Congress, I’m sure,” said Ms. Hodges. “Especially with a new Republican-led Congress, I think it would be a good idea. But I don’t think they’re going to lift the embargo.”
There are Cuban business owners in Cleveland and elsewhere excited to help invest in and rebuild their homeland. But how much and how soon they’ll be able to participate remains a question. Brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles have been separated for decades. Many are calling renewed diplomatic relations with Cuba an effort whose time has come.
“We have had relations with Communist countries and we have not had embargos and things like that. Many countries have changed and I think that’s good,” said Ms. Hodges. “Who knows what would have happened in Cuba had things been slightly different.”
Political analysts believe President Obama is thinking about his legacy as he enters the stretch run of his second term, a time when past presidents have focused on policy issues they’ve long sought to change, but political circumstances prevented.
“The timing is interesting because it would be difficult for a president who would be up for re-election to do something like this,” admitted Ms. Hodges. “But this is a good time for Obama to do it and perhaps get some of these issues out of the way.”
Global Cleveland, which is focused on growing the city’s population by focusing on Latino immigrants, may have a new target demographic to lure to Northeast Ohio. Cleveland’s Cuban population numbered just over 500, according to the 2000 census. But that may be a strong enough base to attract family members and younger generations to assimilate along Lake Erie.
In Ohio, residents of Cuban descent numbered 7,523, or 0.1 percent of the state’s overall population, according to the 2010 census.
CCWA is sponsoring a discussion entitled: A Changing Cuba and its Implications for the United States on Jan. 27, 2015, 5:30-8 p.m. at The Union Club, 1211 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. The featured speaker will be Ted Piccone, a senior fellow with the Project on International Order and Strategy and Latin America Initiative in the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institute.
Piccone’s research is focused on global democracy and human rights policies, U.S.-Latin American relations, emerging powers, and multilateral affairs. The event is supported with funding from the Cleveland Foundation.
Admission to the event is $25 for non-members, $15 for members, and $5 for full-time students. Registration is available through the organization’s website www.ccwa.org or by calling 216-781-3730.
On the Internet: www.ccwa.org