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NYTimes.com: Should the U.S. Normalize Relations With Cuba?

International Airport in Havana, Cuba

(AP Photo)

October 13, 2014

U.S. foreign policy is always facing new challenges, but in one area it has remained practically static for more than 50 years: Cuba is still considered a rogue state sponsor of terrorism and remains isolated under an economic embargo. In an editorial, The Times urged the Obama administration to take advantage of shifting domestic politics and changing policies on the island to establish diplomatic relations. The hope is that normalization would help bring democratic change in Cuba and stem a new flow of migrants making the dangerous voyage to reach American soil.

Should the U.S. lift the embargo and establish diplomatic relations with the Cuban government?

Democracy Can’t Take Root in Isolation
by Christopher Sabatini

Human rights abuses continue in Cuba and U.S.A.I.D. contractor Alan Gross remains in prison. But it is precisely for that reason that President Obama needs to continue to lift the veil of isolation the U.S. has placed over Cuba – doing so will promote a greater flow of information and independent activity that has led to political opening across the world. It’s no coincidence that there’s never been democratic change in a country under as tight as an embargo as the one the U.S. has had on Cuba for 53 years; and it's no coincidence that it has failed.

Because of the 1996 law (the unironically titled Libertad Act) much of the embargo is codified into law and requires an act of Congress to lift it. Given the paralysis of the current congress this appears very unlikely. But there is scope for the president to use executive authority to liberalize elements of the embargo, including nontourist travel, greater opportunities for commerce with the growing nonstate sector, U.S. telecoms investment and sales on the island, and removing Cuba from the U.S. Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list. In the latter case, there is no evidence to support the current designation.

All of these measures are not only immediately possible, but they are also desirable. Recent steps taken by the Castro regime to “update" its failed socialist economy, like permitting the formation of small private businesses, as well as steps taken by the Obama administration, like allowing unlimited travel and remittances from Cuban-Americans and broadening purposeful travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens, have produced real, measurable changes, including the emergence of over 450,000 small businesses and a palpable space and optimism for change, especially as the Castros (Fidel is 88 and Raul, his brother and now president, is 83) near the end of their time in power.

This opinion is part of NYTimes.com's Room for Debate series. Click here to read all the entries in this online debate.