President Barack Obama’s executive order today dramatically alters Cuba policy in a manner likely to advance individual freedom and democratic change. In taking steps to pursue direct engagement with a country just 90 miles off our coast, the president’s actions will open access to information, increase exchanges, boost private enterprise, and accelerate democracy. Once walls are torn down – like with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union – the truth becomes hard to hide. The beginning of the end of the island’s authoritarian legacy will come because Cubans will now more easily see what is beyond their shores.
I am proud of the role of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center has played in providing the context and understanding for this sort of tectonic policy shift. Our poll on U.S. Cuba relations, issued earlier this year, underscored why the majority of Americans of all ilk are ready for change. Our national poll found that domestically the president has support from Americans on both sides of the aisle for normalizing relations. It also found that the strongest proponents of this move are voters in Florida, historically those most invested in Cuba policy and the status quo.
Critics and proponents of this policy change want the same outcome: We all want a peaceful, prosperous and democratic Cuba. The only difference is how to get there. Fifty-five years resulted in very little change in Cuba — the policy wasn’t working. Now is time to try engagement. The resulting avalanche of visitors, social media, internet sites and family investors in Cuban enterprises will make it increasingly difficult for the Cuban government to hold back the desire of everyday Cubans to be free.