Most Americans remember Presidents for their successes or failures. For example, President Jimmy Carter is remembered for negotiating the peace talks between Egypt and Israel at Camp David. President Richard Nixon’s legacy will always be connected to the Watergate scandal, despite the fact that Nixon’s greatest success was his visit to China in 1972, which was instrumental in normalizing relations with the People’s Republic of China.
What will be President Obama’s legacy? Amid the countless number of broken promises that Obama has made over the last six years, like his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, Obama’s presidential legacy is probably secured with his announcement that the U.S. is normalizing relations with Cuba. This is quite significant since Cuba is seen by many countries around the world as a victim of an unjust U.S. embargo.
Another significance of the U.S. normalizing relations with Cuba is that it ends the last chapter of the Cold War. After Fidel Castro led rebels ousted the Batista regime from Cuba, the U.S. was determine to derail the newly formed communist government of Cuba. In 1960, Cuba nationalized all of its oil refineries, after one American owned oil refinery refused to refine crude oil from the Soviet Union. The U.S. responded by eliminating the Cuban sugar quota, which granted Cuba a percentage of U.S. sugar imports at prices higher than the international market price. The Cuban government responded by nationalizing all American businesses and properties without any compensation. In 1961, President Eisenhower imposed an embargo on Cuba under the Trading with the Enemy Act (TWEA) which allows the President to impose economic sanctions on countries seen as a threat during wartime.
However, strong opposition from Republicans could undue Obama’s legacy. Some Republicans have already voiced their opposition and are discussing strategies on how they can oppose the normalization of relations between the two countries. Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican – South Carolina) stated that he would do everything in his power to block funding for the construction of an U.S. Embassy in Cuba. As it pertains to lifting the embargo entirely, Republican-controlled Congress could simply refuse to repeal the Helms Burton Act (1996), which strengthen and continued the U.S. embargo against Cuba, and the Trade Sanction Reform and Export Enhancement Act (2000), which authorized the trade of certain agricultural commodities, medicines, and medical devices.
If President Obama’s presidential legacy is dependent on the successful normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, then over the next two years he must prevent opposing forces from undermining the U.S normalization of relations with Cuba and ensure that steps are taken to lift the full embargo against Cuba during his remaining tenure.