During his campaign, Barack Obama made a promise - to open open up channels with Cuba - that must have flown under the radar of Americans who were neither hanging their hat in Florida nor part of the Cuban-American population.
While an embargo may have made great sense during the anxiety of the Cold War, it no longer serves any effective purpose. In fact, the American embargo serves as a scapegoat of sorts.
Cuba's communist government is able to place the blame for nearly any problem the island faces on the constraints of the embargo. American commodities still find their way into the Cuban marketplace, but through intermediary states that have less restricted trade with Cuba.
Thus far, Obama has made good on his promise to reconsider American policy toward Cuba. This month, the White House announced the cancellation of severe restrictions on family travel and remittances, which are earnings sent back home by expatriates. Additionally, communication lines between the two states will be improved under Obama's new plan.
These are all excellent steps, but more needs to be done, preferably in a strategic manner. American foreign policy has recently been, first and foremost, concerned with improving diplomatic relationships with nations such as Iran, Syria and China, states seen by the Western world to have undemocratic tendencies and, in some cases, less than perfect human rights records.
Cuba is a relatively docile state, and there is little risk in the United States beginning a new relationship there. The Obama administration would be wise to use Cuba as an "example" for other states. For example, the U.S. opens up a little bit of trade in exchange for an improvement in political prisoner treatment; Obama sends a baseball team and some technicians, and Cuba cuts back on press restrictions.
If successful, the plan would show the Syrias and Chinas of the world that the "new" United States administration will make deals, but not without some concessions.
Also remember that Cuba is a nation where the newest car rolling down the streets is a '61 Chevy. What better way to help revitalize Detroit than by opening up an entire new market for American cars?
It won't happen immediately, even with an elimination of the trade barrier, because much of Cuba's population won't be able to afford new vehicles, especially considering the relative strength of today's dollar. In the long-term though, opening Cuba is in the interest of revitalizing a key sector of the struggling American economy.
A few years down the road, I see no reason why the total embargo of Cuba should continue. It provides a great excuse for the failings of the Castro regime, it keeps the Cuban poor from becoming a thriving middle class (something that is necessary for the evolution of a more liberal government) and it robs the American export sector of a potentially healthy market.
With a little smart maneuvering, the Obama administration can safely start chipping away at the trade embargo. If intelligent economic advisement is part of the process, Cuba can turn itself around and begin to thrive, becoming an example for the rest of the world, showing it what can happen if they "play ball."
Alex Berberich is a sophomore IR major who's rooting for the Havana Cigars next year.