When I look up from my immersion in writing this book on Cuba and the US, all the signs point to the second scenario described below, a goal of normalization by the end of President Barack Obama's second term.
Of course the path may be blocked by sudden events or the loss of time. The obstacles in Congress are hard to overcome. But I do not agree with the view that because Obama associates with very distasteful right-wingers in Miami, he plans to keep the present policies of non-recognition and the embargo. In reading Obama, and other presidents, one understands that he uses the most conservative arguments and employs the most conservative political coalitions to arrive at progressive outcomes. Too slowly, too cautiously, and ignoring the Left which often creates the political space that allows him to act.
He already has shown that Florida Cubans no longer enjoy a monopoly lock on that state's electoral votes. We know that New Jersey senator, Robert Menendez, is bluffing when he says the Jersey City Cubans are the key to Democratic success in that state. Obama needs Menendez on immigration reform but then can push him on Cuba, now that enough Cuban-Americans favor open travel, remittances, etc.
Obama wants to say that ending the embargo and recognizing Cuba are new and "updated" ways to win the Cuban people to free markets and democracy. Unlike past presidents, Obama is smart enough to understand that regime change is unacceptable and almost certainly undoable. But the Castro brothers are transitioning out of power anyway, leaving an opening for respectful reappraisal and recognition.
The two states already are accommodating each other in multiple ways, without drama or over-reaction from the right. Bilateral agreements are being negotiated on immigration, drug addiction, postal service, etc, and the Cubans are carefully opening their economy to capitalist-oriented reforms, without yielding on the role of the state and key social programs.
The key obstacles ahead for Obama are:
- Taking Cuba off the terrorism list;
- Resolving the cases of the Cuban Four and Allen Gross, and;
- More unilateral easing of US restrictions.
Important allies are all lined up: the UN, Latin America, the Catholic Church, etc. Because Obama wants the Cubans here "on board", he will find a way to claim that normalization was their own doing. Secret talks at "the highest level" already are in place, awaiting further signals. Achieving this long-cherished goal of the US Left is really doable.