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Exchange of embassies with Cuba recognizes the decades of failed policy

It is easy to understand the opposition of some older Cuban-Americans to the formal reopening of relations between the two countries, but the plain fact is that the policy of the past 54 years hasn’t worked. It was past time for a change.

If this country can have formal, productive relations with oppressive regimes that include China and Russia, it can stand to have them with Cuba, too. The opening creates business and social opportunities that stand the best chance of altering Cuba’s behavior and its direction.

President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced last week that they would reopen their embassies, bringing an end to at least one part of the countries’ decades-old estrangement. In doing so, each had to acknowledge, at least tacitly, that the policy of ignoring one another no longer made sense.

No one need view this with rose-colored glasses. Cuba remains a communist government with many oppressive policies. So do Russia and China. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine didn’t prompt Washington to sever relations or cause Republicans to call for that action.

Yet many Republicans – though not all – can’t seem to help themselves when it comes to a) Cuba and b) anything Obama does. Thus, House Speaker John Boehner protested that, “The Obama administration is handing the Castros a lifetime dream of legitimacy without getting a thing for the Cuban people being oppressed by this brutal communist dictatorship.”

Boehner would rather continue a useless policy that offers no hope of changing Cuba’s conduct and still, by the way, maintain relations with Russia and China. Why? Maybe it’s something in the DNA of today’s congressional Republicans. To be consistent, they’d also have criticized Richard Nixon for going to China and Ronald Reagan for treating with Mikhail Gorbachev.

Fights remain. Only Congress, currently controlled by Republicans, can end the trade sanctions and fully eliminate the travel ban. Congress must also vote to fund an embassy in Havana and confirm an ambassador. It won’t do any of it, at least not now.

But it will be interesting to see how, or if, this becomes a campaign issue among Cuban-American voters and centrist voters in next year’s presidential election. Will Republicans be rewarded as steadfast for opposing the opening to Cuba or punished for grimly clinging to a failed policy?

They are interesting questions, but as a matter of policy, beside the point. This was the right move.