Obama's Revamp of Cuba Travel Policy Is Overdue, But the Embargo Should Come Next

Obama team moves to loosen Cold War-era travel restrictions. Embargo must fall next, politics or no.

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Take, for example, energy. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that Cuba's offshore oil fields hold 5 billion barrels of oil and 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. (Cuba's government, not surprisingly, sets the oil figure at 20 billion barrels, which would put it on par with the United States.) Whether you're a conservationist concerned about despoiling the seas or a member of the "drill, baby, drill" crowd worried that foreign countries like China might get oil from just off our shores, there are compelling reasons to engage Cuba.

There are broader economic reasons for normalization as well. Studies have estimated that lifting the travel ban or the embargo could pump up to $1.9 billion into the economy. Sarah Stephens, the executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, recounted to me this week how when she last visited Cuba, the government had bought a fleet of new buses from China. "We can revive the auto industry!" she quipped. And the international politics regarding Cuba have shifted as well. "For 50 years, America has made Cuba policy the litmus test of relations with countries in Latin America," Julia Sweig, a Cuba expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, pointed out. "Now Latin America has flipped the table" and views the Obama administration's Cuba policy as a key foreign-affairs test.

The Cuba embargo would reach its 50th anniversary in 2011. Forty-nine years seems like enough.

  • Read more by Robert Schlesinger.
  • Read more about Cuba.