From Retribution to Re-engagement: A New Framework for US-Cuban Relations (Marcellus Policy Analysis)

By Jaime Vazquez, Fall 2021 Marcellus Policy Fellow

Both the United States and Cuba face a crossroads for determining how to preserve their interests and influence in a 21st century Western Hemisphere. Confronting an uneasy populace and economic crisis induced by the global coronavirus pandemic, U.S. sanctions and Cuba’s own mismanagement of its economy have compelled it to a dependency on the likes of China and Russia. The United States is being forced to reevaluate its national security strategy to counter the influence of an ascendant China and is currently positioned to lose relative economic and security gains vis-à-vis China in its own backyard. Evolving past the grievances of the Cold War can enable both the U.S. and Cuba to improve their posture to find peace and prosperity in the coming decades.

Policymakers and advocates in favor of a policy of engagement with Cuba do not advertise the economic and geopolitical benefits associated with normalizing relations. Conceptualizing a constructive framework for U.S.-Cuban relations is contingent on a thorough assessment of the benefits that will be gained from shifting course on Cuba. U.S. businesses, Cuban Americans, and Cubans living on the island stand to gain the most on a micro scale. Additionally, the U.S. can pursue détente with Cuba as a means of restructuring what a hemispheric policy looks like in the era of collective security threats – climate change, emerging technologies, global pandemics, and illicit hubs for drug transportation.

The Cold War strategy proved successful for the U.S. vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. It was not successful in pushing Cuba towards democracy, and it is no longer serviceable to U.S. interests in the region moving forward. The U.S. can move in good faith to restore the progress made under the Obama administration and help Cuba defeat COVID-19. From there, the benefits and possibilities associated with normalizing relations are plentiful.