The President's new opening to Cuba represents an end to a policy that has been failing since the 1960s, a new opportunity to open a door to Cuba, and with proper implementation a way to help further solidify our Hemisphere and encourage and bring about change on the island. The estrangement and Embargo have failed to bring benefits, hit hardest at Cuba's civil population and left the rest of our Hemisphere wondering about our leadership and principles.
Cuba under the Castros is not a model for anyone. Much of what they have done to the country has led to economic privation, poverty and lack of progress. The Embargo will not go away easily or without a clear program for change; for a time we will have to work within it. We cannot ignore some of the gains, as well -- better treatment for Black Cubans, advances in biological and medical research, support for peace in Colombia, and civil help for countries in trouble -- and most recently in West Africa on Ebola.
The most important question now is where can we go from here? The early stages are clear -- work to solidify the efforts to open up diplomatic relations. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson will lead those and they will be important. Beyond those steps, further opening up Cuba and the United States to reciprocal visits and programs of interchange will help. Our most useful contacts will be between the people of Cuba and the United States. Steps to grow and facilitate those contacts will be of great value for the future of Cuba and in its relationship to the US. Fulbright-type exchanges, opportunities for investment in small and medium enterprises, tourist visits in both directions, more extensive news reporting, greater access in Cuba to the Internet, an end to the harassment of dissidents who practice peaceful protest and a set of actions to help strength the consumer economy and build jobs on the island point the way.
What can the Hemisphere do? Cuba has been invited by Panama to the April 2015 Summit and has accepted. It is a good time for the Hemisphere to look at a Marshall Plan for the island, keeping in mind that, as in the original plan, both economic help and investment need to be fully matched by major efforts to get Cuba to build a more open economy, better access to resources and a wider degree of individual freedom. What the Embargo could not achieve with Cuba's government may well be what the Hemisphere working together can achieve with the people of the island. Working with President Raul Castro's gradual change policy by strengthening and speeding its accomplishments for the people of the island could be a way to build progress.
Finally, and many will criticize me for suggesting this, we need to look at a constructive future for Guantanamo. Can it play a role of bringing us together with Cuba and the Hemisphere rather than separating us? We should end imprisonment there, particularly of those without trial or sentencing, and do it rapidly. For the future, why not return Guantanamo to Cuba, but on the basis that it would be a cooperative future enterprise in first class, high-level research and education in those fields that contribute most to the progress of Cuba and the Hemisphere.
Graduate and post-graduate studies in fields like health, agriculture, economic growth and development, education, poverty alleviation and similar areas would be the focus. Open to highly qualified students from all of the Hemisphere on a competitive basis with full scholarships for the needy and with a first-class faculty drawn from Cuba, the United States and the rest of the Hemisphere, Guantanamo could move from being a "Black Hole" to a "Beacon of Light."
Long shot, sure it is; but the risk is worth the gamble. And the results could once again help make cooperation for the future of the Western Hemisphere a hallmark of U.S. leadership and serious progress.
This post is part of a Huffington Post blog series called "90 Miles: Rethinking the Future of U.S.-Cuba Relations." The series puts the spotlight on the emerging relations between two long-standing Western Hemisphere foes and will feature pre-eminent thought leaders from the public and private sectors, academia, the NGO community, and prominent observers from both countries. Read all the other posts in the series here.
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