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As Obama Arrives In Havana, Poll Finds Most Americans Support His Opening To Cuba

Air Force One Havana

Yesterday, Air Force One landed in Havana carrying President Obama, his family, and a retinue of American business leaders eager to explore business opportunities, marking the first visit by an American President to the island nation since Calvin Coolidge arrived there via battleship back in 1928. This is just the latest step in a series of moves that the United States and Cuba have taken since President Obama took steps to normalize relations after five decades of isolation and embargo in December 2014, with the latest moves before this including the reopening of mutual embassies for the first time in 54 years and the resumption of commercial air travel. While the larger embargo, which was implemented by Congressional act and thus can only be completely repealed by Congressional action that seems unlikely under current circumstances, the change in policy has already result in a number of increased opportunities for American and Cuban businesses in tourism and other industries and, thanks to companies such as AirBnB, allowed individual Cubans to find ways to earn money from what is really only the beginning of a wave of American tourism that will clearly have a huge impact on Cuba in the years to come. There is still much about Cuban policy that needs to change, of course, especially in the area of human rights, but at least in the early stages this opening to Cuba seems as though it will likely be one of the aspects of President Obama’s foreign policy legacy that history will come to see as having an overwhelmingly positive outcome.

Given that, it’s not surprising that a majority of Americans support the changes that have come to America’s relationship with a former foe:

As President Obama travels Cuba for his historic trip, a majority of Americans support restoring U.S.-Cuba diplomatic ties, according to a new CBS News/New York Times poll.

Fifty-two percent approve of the president’s handling of relations with the island nation, according to the poll released Monday. Six in 10 Americans think restoring diplomacy with Cuba is mostly good for the U.S., but views are mixed on whether it will lead to more democracy in Cuba.

The public, however, doesn’t share the President’s goal of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay: 52 percent want it to remain open.

In December 2014 Mr. Obama announced that U.S. and Cuba would resume diplomatic ties after more than 50 years. Fifty-eight percent of Americans support this, while just 25 percent oppose it. Most Democrats and independents favor re-establishing diplomacy, while Republicans are divided.

Americans have long supported this move. When Gallup asked a version of this question back in 1977, 53 percent of Americans thought diplomatic relations with Cuba should be re-established. While diplomacy may have resumed, the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba remains in effect. Fifty-five percent of Americans favor the United States ending its trade embargo against Cuba.

As President Obama visits Cuba – the first for a sitting U.S. president since Calvin Coolidge 88 years ago – more now approve of the President’s handling of relations between the two countries. Fifty-two percent of Americans approve; a slight uptick from last summer and an increase of eight points since 2014. While Republicans may be split on the restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba, a majority of them disapprove of how the President is handling relations with that country.

When asked what impact restored relations will have on Cuba, Americans are inclined to think it will lead to more democracy (40 percent) rather than less (3 percent). However, half think it will make no difference.

On the other hand, most Americans think it will benefit the U.S.; sixty-two percent think re-establishing relations with Cuba will be mostly good for the U.S. Republicans are less likely to view it that way than Democrats and independents.

These numbers, of course, are consistent with other polling that we’ve seen since the policy changes began nearly two years ago. By and large, the public supports the idea of opening relations and trade with Cuba, in some cases by significant margins. Even among Republicans, there is at least plurality support for the changes that President Obama has implemented and the possibility of further opening in the future such as fully lifting the trade and travel embargoes. This stands in marked contrast to the position that many Republican politicians take on this issue, such as Texas Senator and Presidential candidate Ted Cruz, who argues in a Politico article that accuses President Obama of ‘legitimizing the corrupt and ignoring the oppressed.’ What Cruz fails to recognize, of course, is the fact that the existing embargo policy has been in place for more than half a century and has failed to accomplish any of its goals such as forcing political changes from the Castro regime and that there’s no indication at all that continuing the policy would have any impact at all other than to continue to help to impoverish the Cuban people while locking Americans out of the travel and business opportunities that pretty much the entire rest of the world is able to take advantage of at this point. Indeed, it’s clear from reading Cruz’s Politico column that there is no rational basis for continuing the current policy at all. 

Further opening is likely to take time, of course. In part this is because many of the issues that remain between the U.S. and Cuba are complicated and likely won’t be easy to resolve, especially when it comes to the property claims of people who escaped Cuba after the revolution or found themselves forced out of the country. In many cases, it has been decades since those events happened and time has moved on in Havana and elsewhere, meaning that the expectation that these people would simply be able to reclaim property is probably not realistic. Additionally, of course, there remain questions and concerns regarding human rights abuses by the Castro regime, the status of American citizens wanted for crimes in the United States who have been given refuge in Cuba, and a host of other issues. Finally, of course, there are those aspects of the economic embargo that only Congress can repeal, and that simply isn’t likely to happen until there are some signs of progress from Havana on issues like human rights. For the time being, though, each small step forward is progress toward something that’s likely to be a better future for both the Cuban people, and for the United States and, in any case, it’s better than continuing to follow the same failed policy that had been in place since the Cold War was running hot.

Photo of Air Force One over a Havana neighborhood via Reuters

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. C. Clavin says:

    in any case, it’s better than continuing to follow the same failed policy

    Needless to say, Republicans, by nature a back-ward looking bunch, prefer the same failed policy.
    http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/03/obama-cuba-visit-ted-cruz-213749

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  2. KM says:

    Ted Cruz is the last person to be opening his mouth on this considering his family history. You know, the whole fighting for Castro the Communist thing. He does realize this can and will be brought up by his opponents: that his family was part of the problem, made it worse, ran for it and now is making bank whining about how horrible it is that Cuba’s being taken off America’s Sh^t List. That his still-alive father is available for questioning, interviews and gaffes galore.

    Cruz doesn’t give a damn about the actual Cuban people. We do major business and have decent political ties with governments who routinely violate human rights on a daily basis; why Cuba gets singled out to this degree is nothing more then BS vote pandering. Doesn’t excuse what the Castros did but it’s awfully funny how people want action on these abuses and aren’t screaming for the blood of allies who do the same or worse.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  3. george says:

    It’s been a ridiculous policy from the time Nixon went to China (how can be trading/having normal relations with Communist Cuba be a problem but trading/normal relations with a much bigger and more dangerous China not be?). Or detente with the USSR (in which universe does it make sense to have normal relations with fellow Superpower USSR but are afraid to have normal relations with its puppet state Cuba?)

    Its been a sham, about votes in Florida, and I’m surprised anyone bothers pretending otherwise. The argument is ridiculous – the USSR has enough missiles that we have mutually assured destruction, but they’re not a problem. Cuba (with missiles removed) are a zero threat, but we can’t have relations with them because its too dangerous.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  4. Franklin says:

    @KM:

    We do major business and have decent political ties with governments who routinely violate human rights on a daily basis …

    … except Cuba can’t produce enough cheap goods for us to buy at Walmart, so we get to set an example of them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  5. JKB says:

    Obama arrives in Cuba, poses in front of the image of a mass murderer. Punked by the Castros.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 20

  6. C. Clavin says:

    @JKB:

    the image of a mass murderer.

    Did he kill as many innocents as Bush/Cheney? Nope. Not by a county mile.
    But keep up the dream.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 2

  7. Stonetools says:

    @JKB:

    Dude, this talking point has already been annihilated. Twitter is already full of photos of Nixon shaking hands with Mao, Reagan speaking in front of a bust of Lenin, GHWB speaking in front of a picture of Mao, and GWB hand in hand with the king of Saudi Arabia. That was too easy. Troll harder next time.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 1

  8. C. Clavin says:

    @Stonetools:
    You forgot about Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  9. Tyrell says:

    We look forward to the President’s remarks to the Cuban people with celebration and anticipation: the beginning of the end of the last Communist bloc holdout; the end of a totally failed system. We, and the Cuban people, look forward to US investors, retail stores, tv networks, restaurants, major league sports, education groups, religious groups, hotel chains, and many more projects that will improve the standard of living for the Cuban people. And lets get some US car dealers down there. Those people need some new vehicles.
    With this input of money, ingenuity, and American know how comes the requirement of civil liberties for the Cuban people: a complete change in the attitude of their leaders ! This requires an American type of Bill of Rights. And the implementation of a free enterprise economic system.
    It is perfectly fine and expected that the leaders of the US meet with the Cuban leader.
    I remember the night when President Nixon announced that he was going to China ! We all were slack jawed and stunned – no one could believe it. People were saying “what is he going to do next ?” Today I doubt if Nixon would get very far in the Republican party. He had progressive proposals and ideas.
    “There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin.” President Kennedy

    Will the president have his “Berlin Wall” moment in history ?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  10. David M says:

    @JKB:

    Obama arrives in Cuba, poses in front of the image of a mass murderer.

    I’ll never understand the modern GOP. Why does this matter? Is the trip a success if the picture isn’t taken? It’s nonsense like this that creates room for clowns like Trump.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  11. gVOR08 says:

    @Tyrell:

    With this input of money, ingenuity, and American know how comes the requirement of civil liberties for the Cuban people: a complete change in the attitude of their leaders ! This requires an American type of Bill of Rights. And the implementation of a free enterprise economic system.

    Are you saying that we have to force this or that the Cubans need to do this? If the former, no, we don’t. None of this constitutes a threat to the U. S. If the latter, give it a little time. Once Cuba is open, they’ll naturally liberalize. We need to nudge toward democracy, not demand. I wouldn’t be surprised if within 30 years there’s a pro U. S. annexation movement in Cuba.

    Also, no one’s gifting them all this money, ingenuity, and know how. Our corporations are going to be going in for profit.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  12. bill says:

    cuba will benefit more than will we, proportionately. they’ll be able to upgrade their oppression so to speak!
    i like how raul threw that curveball at obama when asked about “political prisoners”…..it’s like a bad comedy skit.
    side note, a small raft escaping cuba was plucked out of the sea near florida a few days ago- 9 people died in the 22 days they were at sea, 18 survived – this didn’t appear to be “newsworthy” for some reason. is the msm sick of dead refugees or something!?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 14

  13. george says:

    @bill:

    And yet Reagan met with Gorbachev, Nixon met with Mao and Brezhnev, and America had diplomatic and trade relations with the USSR and Maoist China.

    Again, it was okay to have relations with Communist super powers who had nuclear armed missiles and basically oppressed half of Europe (not to mention the tens of millions killed by Stalin and Mao), but wrong to relations with a very minor Communist island? What kind of strange universe do you live in that makes Cuba more dangerous than the old USSR or Mao’s China?

    I mean, seriously, think about it. We had normal relations with the USSR. You know, the people who ran Castro’s Cuba. Other than the Florida vote, how could anyone be more worried about relations with Cuba than with the USSR? Once relations with the Soviets were normalized, it was obvious that having relations with communist countries was not a problem.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  14. Davebo says:

    There are over 35,000 cubans facing deportation orders in the US right now. They remain here because Cuba refuses to accept them.

    Hopefully, with this engagement Miami’s real estate market will get a bit softer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  15. An Interested Party says:

    Oh my, now we’re going to hear sanctimonious horse$hit from the usual suspects about this visit…suspects who probably wholeheartedly supported Pinochet in Chile, the Contras in Nicaragua, and so many other right-wing murderers throughout Latin America…I mean, hey, as long as they were anti-communists…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  16. bill says:

    @george: you read an awful lot into that! or were you responding to someone else who was assailing cuba/obama/anything else?
    it’s not like there’s a bunch of “success stories” south of the border to begin with, so who really cares if we start doing business with them and allowing tourists to go there?- if/when they screw up it’s their problem (like that idiot who just got 15 yrs in n korea) buyer beware.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 6

  17. Tyrell says:

    @george: Raul Castro will not be around a whole lot longer. He is getting old and tired. I wonder if they are grooming someone else or just how they will choose a new leader. I hope it is not through crooked elections.
    The visit of President Nixon to China was a shocker. Most people did not believe that he would do it.
    Read “On China” by Dr. Henry Kissinger.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  18. John Peabody says:

    I just want to say that the picture is very cool. It gets an ‘A’ in photojournalism class.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  19. Tyrell says:

    @John Peabody: It does show a strange contrast in cultures. It points out the need in Cuba of US investments, business, technology, education, and a free market economy.
    I am not sure how much longer AF 1 will be using the 747. It is nearing the end of commercial service.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. gVOR08 says:

    @John Peabody: True. Have to wonder if the guy got lucky or paid people to park AF1 colored cars there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0