THE BLOG
12/20/2014 01:41 pm ET Updated Feb 19, 2015

Obama's New Cuba Policy Corrects a Five-Decade Failure

Pool via Getty Images

President Obama's bold decision to chart a new course in U.S.-Cuban relations effectively ends the last vestiges of the Cold War in the Western Hemisphere. Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall the world has moved on. Now, the U.S. and Cuba can begin to chart a new course as well.

The relaxing of restrictions on banking, remittances, travel and, most importantly, restoring diplomatic relations and reviewing Cuba's designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, will bring immediate, positive reverberations beyond the U.S.-Cuba relationship. The U.S. embargo on Cuba has provoked tension with the rest of Latin America for decades, driving a wedge with less friendly governments and even close allies. Now, with the embargo severely hollowed out, we can focus on fostering a democratic Cuba in collaboration with others in the region.

Already, the leaders of countless Latin American countries have expressed unanimous support for the president's announcement. Even Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro called the actions "a brave gesture and historically necessary."

For over five decades the United States put pressure on the Cuban regime through a policy of isolation. The problem -- as seen in countries like North Korea and Iran -- is that sanctions and isolation only have a chance to work when the global community is united in its support. In Cuba, with the U.S. going it alone, isolation failed. Instead, it was the United States that became isolated.

That will now change. Now, new travel policies will bring an influx of American culture and values on the island. Newly-permitted telecommunications technology will create better access and exposure to ideas. The financial provisions announced will provide the Cuban people, especially independent entrepreneurs, with resources previously out of reach. These steps will weaken the Castros' control of everyday life and give new tools for civil society.

The American people were ahead of Washington in coming to this conclusion. Fifty-six percent support normalizing relations, with the strongest support coming from Florida, the home of the Cuban exile community. Unlike most other issues, a majority of Democrats, Republicans and Independents all agree on the need for change.

Americans are even more supportive when asked about specific changes that the president has now enacted. Whether it is changing the travel ban, easing financial restrictions, meeting with the Cuban government, or removing Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List, support for each one rose by six to eight percentage points, to above 61 percent.

Removing Cuba from the terrorism list will yield the biggest impact, both for Cuba and the United States. For the United States, it will further legitimize the list. For years, Cuba has sat only in the company of Iran, Syria, and Sudan. The Cuban regime may be unfriendly, but it does not pose any of the active dangers to the United States and our security that these other countries possess. Taking Cuba off the list will free up bureaucratic resources to even further focus on these truly rogue nations.

The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) handles all travel and monetary sanctions, not just those related to the State Sponsor of Terror list. OFAC is responsible for sanctions related to 20 countries and five programs (such as arms control and narcotrafficking). Their time would be best spent monitoring transactions and exchanges that are of real concern to the security of our homeland.

For Cuba, removal from the list allows access to aid and loans from international institutions, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. This assistance will come with strings attached, forcing the Cuban government to undertake reforms that will prevent economic collapse -- and the ensuing exodus of people to Florida's shores. Removal also means new access to trade and banking services.

The policy changes are not a reward for the Castros. They are a recognition that involvement, not estrangement, will foster a productive relationship better able to reach our goals of an inclusive, democratic hemisphere.

Jason Marczak is deputy director of the Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.