MIAMI —The gradual renewal of ties between the United States and Cuba no longer qualifies as news. Both sides have put aside their prerequisites for sitting and talking — an end to the embargo for Cuba, and Cuba pledging to change its political system.
Each country has followed a basic script guiding both toward full restoration of ties. But now we must ask what President Barack Obama will actually gain with a decision that was not entirely devoid of risks, and what are the reasons for hastening the calendar of rapprochement? On the Cuban side, the current state of affairs across Latin America doesn't favor waiting for better conditions in what remains of Raúl Castro's presidency. The region is seeing fundamental changes in some areas that will undoubtedly spill over into Cuba.
These include instability in Venezuela and new leadership in Argentina, which could prompt changes in Havana's web of alliances. The collapse of left-wing populism and the return of liberal economics are possible, so Cuba's priority is to balance its position in Latin America through better relations with the United States.
Obama has the advantage of no longer being politically vulnerable to the risk he took on Cuba. The Cuban issue lacks the weight it had years ago in Florida, where its impact was often crucial to voting results. The influence of those groups opposed to normalizing ties and ending sanctions has been eroded, and elsewhere in the United States, Cuba is simply no longer a priority. This has been evident in the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries to date, where candidates of Cuban origin (Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio) haven't been able to exploit it to their advantage.
The de-escalation of tensions may even have a domino effect elsewhere in the world. As Cuba stops being an infiltration sponge from other zones (Africa, the Caribbean and South America), Havana is proudly taking on a mediator role, in Colombian peace talks, for example. It is collaborating against drug trafficking and assuring safe passage to the Panama Canal, and has come to terms with U.S. policy in Guantanamo.
The only risk Cuba may pose to the United States relates to its own domestic situation, should its economy deteriorate and undermine its political stability. Cuba's only remedy for domestic confrontations for now would be to use its troops and security apparatus. The United States is busy enough for the moment dealing with more explosive situations elsewhere (the Middle East and east Asia), which means Washington ultimately wishes only stability off the Florida shore. Raúl Castro, take note.