On a blustery fall day in 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed all exports to the island nation of Cuba were prohibited. Less than three weeks later President Kennedy was elected and Congress passed the Foreign Assistance Act authorizing Kennedy to expand the prohibition to include a ban on all Cuban imports. The story goes that just before banning all Cuban imports, Kennedy sent his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, to purchase - from Cuba - 1,000 Cuban cigars. And while Kennedy had no way of knowing it at the time, that purchase represented the last unregulated trade between two countries for more than 50 years.
Just under 90 miles from the U.S., Cuba, it's people, products, arts and culture have long been virtually off-limits to United States citizens - which is why President Obama's July 1st announcement that Cuba and the United States will resume normal diplomatic relations under the Vienna Convention is both significant and historic.
Not only do these changes mean that Cuba is removed from the dubious "State Sponsor of Terrorism" list, but it also paves the way for legal travel, trade and exchange. Before President Obama's announcement, only those few individuals who held specific licenses from the U.S. Treasury Department were allowed to travel to Cuba. Under the new regulatory regime announced by Obama, many travelers will no longer have to ask permission from the Treasury Department to visit Cuba. It’s a change Cuba welcomes.
Legally, we still aren't permitted to visit Cuba for vacation - a week at the beach is still prohibited. However, cultural people-to-people visits are now allowed without prior permission and the result has been an influx of U.S. travelers and investment. I've been leading this kind of trip to Cuba for a while now, and many changes are already visible - hotels are full, the restaurant industry is booming and small scale Cuban entrepreneurs are taking advantage of relaxed Cuban laws that now allow for small businesses and co-ops.
More exchange of ideas can only benefit both peoples. Perhaps, Cubans can learn from Vermonters about sustainable development and perhaps Vermonters can learn from Cubans how to feed, house and provide healthcare to your entire population at a fraction of our current costs.
To be sure, this historic change in law and policy will face roadblocks along the way, but I’m confident that establishing embassies later this month will open the way to a respectful friendship that’s been obstructed by U.S. policy since Eisenhower occupied the Oval Office.