16 Apr 2015
At this point there isn’t much doubt that we are seeing a new era in relations between Cuba and the United States. I was reminded of this when I received the latest issue of Cigar Aficionado featuring “Welcome to Cuba” on the cover, and a nearly 40-page guide (not including the over 20 pages of ads) written for Americans visiting Cuba.
After President Obama’s recent executive order making legal travel to Cuba easier (and making it legal for visitors to import $100 worth of Cuban cigars), he attended the Organization of American States meeting last week and even had a photo-op and chat with Raúl Castro. Obama’s handshake meeting with the head of the Cuban regime was followed up this week with a recommendation to Congress that Cuba be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Despite Cuban cigars not being legal in the United States for half a century, Cuba’s influence on American cigar culture is indisputable. It is impossible to smoke a premium cigar today sold in the United States that doesn’t have a direct or indirect connection to a Cuban.
Make no mistake, much of that influence is because many Cubans had to flee the brutal communist revolution during and after which many lost virtually all of what they had and found themselves having to start over in a foreign country. Out of that, the premium cigar industry began to grow independent of Cuba, but under the deep influence of Cubans living abroad.
So how do we reconcile that history with an evolving relationship with an island country just 90 miles from Florida?
My own view is there is nothing wrong with embracing a new era of Cuban-American relations. The embargo hasn’t succeeded in toppling the most repressive aspects of the Castro regime. Maybe a new policy can have better results.
But we should not move forward with a blind spot about the deep flaws of the Cuban government. Nor should we pretend those flaws are just a thing of the past. (Read this article from last year for a picture of what Cuba is like for most Cubans.)
It may be time to normalize relations with Cuba, just like we have with many other governments that have poor records when it comes to human rights, and we should hope more interactions with Americans will lead to more freedom for the Cuban people. We just shouldn’t do so naively thinking that the new era has come because the Cuban government has fundamentally changed, but rather with hope that someday soon change will come to Cuba.
photo credit: Whitehouse.gov