Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Mr. Obama’s Historic Move on Cuba

    Mr. Obama’s Historic Move on Cuba

    Following months of secret negotiations with the Cuban government,
    President Obama on Wednesday announced sweeping changes to normalize
    relations with Cuba, a bold move that ends one of the most misguided
    chapters in American foreign policy.

    The administration’s decision to restore full diplomatic relations, take
    steps to remove Cuba from the State Department list of countries that
    sponsor terrorism and roll back restrictions on travel and trade is a
    change in direction that has been strongly supported by this page. The
    Obama administration is ushering in a transformational era for millions
    of Cubans who have suffered as a result of more than 50 years of
    hostility between the two nations.

    Mr. Obama could have taken modest, gradual steps toward a thaw. Instead,
    he has courageously gone as far as he can, within the constraints of an
    outmoded 1996 law that imposes stiff sanctions on Cuba in the pursuit of
    regime change.

    “These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked,” Mr. Obama
    said. “It’s time for a new approach.”

    Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro, deserves credit for his pragmatism. While
    Cuba remains a repressive police state with a failed economy, under his
    leadership since 2008, the country has begun a process of economic
    reforms that have empowered ordinary Cubans and lifted travel
    restrictions the government cruelly imposed on its citizens.

    “We must learn the art of coexisting with our differences in a civilized
    manner,” Mr. Castro said on Wednesday.

    The changes the Obama administration announced have the potential to
    empower Cuba’s growing entrepreneurial class by permitting commercial
    and financial transactions with the United States. The White House also
    intends to make it easier for American technology companies to upgrade
    the island’s primitive Internet systems, a step that could go a long way
    toward strengthening civil society. Given Cuba’s complicated history
    with the United States, it’s all but certain that this new chapter will
    include suspicion and backsliding. Leaders in both countries must make
    every effort to deal with those in a rational, constructive way.

    The United States has been right to press for greater personal freedoms
    and democratic change. But its punitive approach has been overwhelmingly
    counterproductive. Going forward, American support for Cuba’s civil
    society and dissidents is likely to become more effective, in good part
    because other governments in the Western Hemisphere will no longer be
    able to treat Cuba as a victim of the United States’ pointlessly harsh

    As part of the negotiations, the Cuban government released an unnamed
    American intelligence agent who had been imprisoned for nearly 20 years
    and Alan Gross, a 65-year-old American subcontractor who had been
    imprisoned in Havana since 2009. The United States, meanwhile, released
    three Cuban spies who have served more than 13 years in prison. The
    prisoner swap paved the way for a policy overhaul that could become Mr.
    Obama’s top foreign policy legacy.

    Administration officials recognize that Congress is unlikely to take
    complementary steps toward a healthier relationship with Cuba anytime
    soon. But this move will inevitably inform the debate about the merits
    of engagement. In all likelihood, history will prove Mr. Obama right.

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