At the end of the 1980s, there was the event many thought they would not live to see, as the Berlin Wall fell. But the Wall had only been there, in one form or another, for 28 years. The United States blockade of Cuba had, by this year, been going on for well over half a century. It should never have happened, another grievous error made by one Richard Milhous Nixon.
After Fidel Castro and his guerrillas had overthrown the corrupt regime of Fulgencio Batista in 1959, the victorious leader journeyed to Washington DC, with the intention of meeting then President Dwight Eisenhower. However, and here we encounter a crucial however, Ike was, as so often, absent and golfing, and so Castro met the Vice President instead. And that was where it all went wrong.
Tricky Dicky concluded that Castro was a Communist, and that meant he was A Very Bad Person Indeed. Shunned and isolated by the USA, Fidel then went to the Russians, who were only too keen to have a satellite state on the States’ doorstep. Everything then went downhill in terrifyingly short order, as by October 1962 the crisis over ballistic missile deployment brought the superpowers to the brink.
That would be the brink of nuclear war, fought with real nuclear weapons. The world, for a few days, looked into the pit. Fortunately, Jack Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev were more sensible than many of their more bellicose advisors. But the isolation endured. At first, Presidents could not so much as approach the issue. But now, to his eternal credit, Barack Obama has swept away the past.
The Prez declared that past US policy towards Cuba had failed. There must be a new start. Prisoners would be released. Normal diplomatic relations would be resumed. There would be freer movement of people, and, most importantly for Cubans, money. Pressure would now shift to Congress to lift the trade embargo, an issue on which the Republicans are divided.
Obama was not flying solo on this mission: also involved were Canada, and, in a rare foreign policy success for the Vatican, Pope Francis. At a stroke, with Russia weakened by sanctions and a collapse in the world oil price, the very real prospect of returning Cuba to the US’ sphere of influence was in sight. And the chances of Obama’s Democrat successor winning in 2016 were increased.
Only the previous day, Jeb Bush had signalled a possible tilt at the White House. He would almost certainly deliver Florida and its electoral college votes. Now, that is not so certain. While some Cuban-Americans will be wary, many more will view the Obama intervention as the clinching reason to side with the Dems. So much for the idea of a “lame duck” Presidency.
25 years after the Wall came down, we once again live in momentous times.