Relations between the United States and Cuba have been stuck since the United States imposed a full economic embargo in 1962, and during the election season neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney signaled much desire to change the status quo. Yet while Americans have been looking elsewhere, significant change has come to Cuba. The communist government of the ruling Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul, is in the midst of a slow experiment to promote economic entrepreneurship. Late last year, Cuba instituted reforms to its immigration policies that allow Cubans to travel abroad freely and allow those who have emigrated or fled to return home.
These changes, and the beginning of Obama’s second term, create an unusual opportunity to acknowledge Cuba’s gestures and respond in a substantive way. Rather than simply extend policies that, in five decades, have failed to dislodge the Castros, the Obama administration has a chance to drag US policy into the 21st century.