For the Obama administration, the motivation for today’s moves to normalize relations with Cuba is clear. The embargo against Cuba is increasingly unpopular, even in parts of the Cuban-American community that long supported it, and the president has been eager to find areas of both foreign and domestic policy where he can act without cooperation from Congress. But what’s driving this move on the Cuban side?
“I do think that they’re trying to lay the groundwork for a process of change in which they can keep their scalps and guide the country toward a more sustainable political system,” Christopher Sabatini, senior policy director and chairman of the Cuba Working Group at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, told Slate.
The other big factor at play here is the turmoil in Venezuela. The South American nation threw the tottering Cuban economy a lifeline during the regime of Hugo Chávez, providing the island with 100,000 barrels of oil per day. Today, in the aftermath of Chávez’s death and bruised by political turmoil and the plummeting price of oil, Venezuela’s economy is in chaos and the government is on the verge of defaulting on its debt. “You don’t need to be a capitalist to realize that Venezuela’s economy is in very dire straits,” said Sabatini. “It’s getting worse literally by the day. So they’re going to lose that benefactor.”
Add the Venezuela situation to the Castros’ advancing years and you can understand what’s driving Raúl toward a more accommodating stance. “It would be the height of poor planning to think that those two things could happen and the country would be OK,” Sabatini said....