Cuba: leftists, US firms praise new policy

US president Barack Obama's Dec. 17 announcement that the US would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba was "an historic triumph for the society and the government of the island," the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada asserted in an editorial the next day. "[T]he hostility converted into Washington's government policy has arrived at its end—although the repeal of the blockade laws is still pending—and this occurred without Havana's having made any concession in its political and economic model." The paper added that the policy change demonstrated "the correctness of the position of the Latin American governments, which advocated for decades for an end to the official US hostility to Cuba." (LJ, Dec. 18)

The change won praise from Latin American leaders on both the left and the right. "For us, social fighters, today is an historic day," center-left Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff said at conference of South American countries in Argentina. "We imagined we would never see this moment." Venezuela's leftist president Nicolás Maduro, attending the same conference, called the move an "historic victory for the Cuban people…. [W]e have to recognize the gesture from President Barack Obama, a courageous and necessary gesture." Center-right Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos expressed his hope that the new policy would lead to attaining "the dream of having a continent where there is total peace." (Washington Post, Dec. 18, from correspondents)

The response in the US was generally favorable, despite heavy media coverage of opponents of the policy change like Cuban-American senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ). A poll by Zogby Analytics found 56% of US voters in favor of the new policy and only 27% opposed. Among Latino voters, 70% supported the policy and 21% opposed it.

Support seemed to be especially strong among US business groups hoping to take advantage of the new relationship. "We deeply believe that an open dialogue and commercial exchange between the US and Cuban private sectors will bring shared benefits, and the steps announced today will go a long way in allowing opportunities for free enterprise to flourish," US Chamber of Commerce president Thomas Donahue said on Dec. 17. Some US corporations did more than just support the move. Heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar Inc., personal care product maker Colgate-Palmolive Company and the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies have each spent tens of thousands of dollars lobbying for an end to the embargo. The liquor company Bacardi Limited and the Swedish-owned General Cigar Company have also been lobbying, while Carnival Cruise Lines, Marriott Hotels & Resorts, the Coca Cola Company and heavy equipment manufacturer John Deere have all expressed interest in doing business in Cuba. (The Hill, Dec. 17; Fortune, Dec. 18; LJ, Dec. 20, from correspondent)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, December 21.