It’s nearly 25 years since the Cold War ended with the break-up of the Soviet empire, but there are some holdovers in various corners of the world. North Korea is the most obvious but Cuba, too, abandoned by communism in its death throes, remains a pariah in its backyard because the greatest power on the planet declined to unbend. It was absurd to pretend this tiny island was a threat to the security of America after the Soviet demise but as the US swung rightwards from the Reagan years, its politicians developed a capacity for make-believe that even JK Rowling might envy.
It took a Barack Obama to exorcise that remaining demon, and though the Republicans (represented by Senator Ted Cruz and, oddly enough, Donald Trump) took advantage of the election season to aim a few barbs at this display of “socialist” brotherhood, their heart did not seem to be in it. The GOP has other things on its radar such as, perhaps, its very survival. By itself this act of tearing down the last fence will not make much difference. Cuba is already part of the Latin American family and has had a profound influence on its political evolution. The various nativist (mestizo) empowerment movements throughout the region readily acknowledge that debt. The late Hugo Chavez, for one, was an open admirer of Fidel Castro. Indeed the Latin oscillation between brutal Left and even more brutal Right is part of that ideological legacy.
Given Cuba’s outsize influence, it could have been argued in the context of the struggle against communism that it represented a threat to governments in the neighbourhood and needed to be quarantined. That it did not work and that Latin America caught the infection is another matter. But once Soviet power vanished, it made no sense whatsoever. Obama’s decision to smooth out this last wrinkle of the Cold War comes not a day too soon, given the normalisation with Iran, still a potent adversary in the Middle East. This is an Obama legacy about which there will be no complaints.