Why Does Obama Want To Normalize Relations With Cuba?

Kate Brown
President Obama announced that he will be visiting Cuba this Spring, marking himself as the first president to do so in over nine decades. What motivated this visit?

barack obama

President Barack Obama has announced that he will be visiting Cuba before the end of his presidential term in late March.

Over the last year or so, Obama has been working hard to normalize ties with Cuba, sitting down for countless peace talks, allowing airlines to start flying directly to Cuba again, and even encouraging commerce and trade.

While the GOP sits and fumes about Obama’s “apologist” behavior with Cuba's “anti-American communist dictatorship,” many seem to be missing a few key pieces of information that may have a grander strategy at play.

Currently, it’s written in black-and-white that Cuba will not only benefit but flourish with these new relations with the U.S. More specifically, their economy could really use the tourism and the trade with such a large superpower so close to their shores.


But what exactly does the U.S. gain from these new relations?

Excluding the hopeful notion that everyone wants to just get along, most countries (especially superpowers like the U.S.) don’t backtrack, side-step, and fiddle with peace talks without some sort of benefit in their line of sight.

It might have slipped your notice, but there is one that has been making headlines for the last week.

After a speech made by Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev at the annual Munich Security Conference, the idea of a second Cold War was clawing it’s way to the surface of people’s minds.

Foreign Policy Magazine reports:

In a long and somewhat rambling speech, his key sound bite was actually quite jarring: We are in a new Cold War, and that this year, 2016, reminded him of 1962 (never mind that he was not born then). For those who need a quick refresher, 1962 was the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world teetered on the brink of nuclear war. Hardly a comforting memory to surface at a security conference.

In Munich this year, many of my Russian friends and colleagues were quick to say, "What he really means is that we need to be careful that we don’t end up in a Cold War." In other words, it’s a friendly cautionary note as we continue to levy sanctions on Russia for their illegal invasion of Ukraine and blatant annexation of Crimea. With all due respect, most non-Russians here didn’t hear a conciliatory tone; instead, they heard a not-so-veiled threat.

The proxy war in Syria that continues to sour relations between Russia and the U.S. certainly isn’t a good omen, but there are quite a few differences between the Cold War and now: no one is a hair-trigger away from beginning a nuclear war, there’s no modern-day Hunt For Red October, and the Soviet Union likes to at least pretend to maintain face around NATO.

cuban missile crisis

Recommended: 5 Questions You Want To Ask About The U.S.-Cuba Deal

The only similarity is the backhanded comments President Vladimir Putin loves to make toward the U.S., and the proxy wars that marred Europe during the Cold War.

Still, would it be so bad for Obama to ensure that a new Cold War wouldn’t gain steam the way it did in the past by solidifying relations with Cuba, the pawn used in the original Cold War, so that there is just one less thing to worry about?

It wouldn’t be a bad idea, especially with the looming threat of an extremist like Donald Trump or Sen. Ted Cruz taking office in mere months.

There may be another pressing reason that this has hit the top of the president’s to-do list before he leaves office: the refugee crisis.

The refugee crisis in Syria hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice, and neither have the ICE raids in the U.S., aiming to deport young children sent here to escape drought, famine, and gang violence in South America. What’s more, many people in Florida have such strong, negative feelings about Cuba due to all the refugees hoping to escape the island and settle in the U.S.

With the immigration policy the way it is, as well as the horrible propaganda spreading throughout Europe (and the hateful rhetoric spewed by the likes of Trump and Cruz), refugees are becoming less and less desirable.


Considering the terrifying view many GOP candidates take towards illegal immigrants (or even innocent refugees, stirring the xenophobic fear of Americans with notions of terrorists smuggling into the U.S. disguising themselves as refugees), Obama might me looking at a bigger picture to change the outcome of those seeking refuge from Cuba in the U.S.: build better relations in Cuba, allowing for more tourism and trade, which therefore strengthens their economy and changes the face of poverty in the small country—possibly even creating a new set of jobs for those that are seeking to escape the trap of being a sugar cane worker.

This, at least, would make more sense when Obama continually references the “Human rights” that he wants to address with the Cuban government. While the majority of Cubans live in poverty, most working in the sugar cane fields and sometimes working for weeks before they are paid, a select few own restaurants and live very well off. By addressing such an issue, he could possibly curb the amount of Cubans looking to make their way to the U.S.

While some reports claim that the Zika virus is one of the reasons for Obama’s sense of urgency about Cuba, this may just be a complex, intersectional knotted mess that Obama is hoping to smooth out (at least somewhat) before he has to hand the power off to someone else. 

Banner Image Credit: Reuters