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  April 5th, 2016 | Written by

Obama’s Historic Cuba Trip Aimed at Cementing Policy Changes Beyond His Presidency, Expert Says

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  • Obama’s Cuba trip was aimed at keeping his initiatives in place after he leaves office.
  • Obama used executive orders to open Cuba travel and U.S. investments, measures which the next president can reverse.
  • Former Rep. Lee Hamilton: “The American public seems to lopsidedly support the new initiatives toward Cuba.”

President Obama has ushered in foreign policy changes towards Cuba – changes that can be reversed by the next president – and his trip last month was aimed at keeping them in place after he leaves office, according to an expert in Latin American politics.

“President Obama’s largely symbolic visit to Cuba was aimed to make his changes in policy stick beyond his presidency, despite the fact that the U.S. Congress controls the decision over lifting the trade embargo,” said Jennifer McCoy, a Distinguished University Professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta, an expert in Latin American politics

The president opened up U.S. citizen travel to Cuba, airline, and ferry routes, and telecommunications, and also relaxed restrictions on investment by U.S. firms and individuals – using executive orders, reversible by the next president. Some Republican presidential candidates this year have vowed to reverse President Obama’s policies.

But if even if Congress won’t lift the trade embargo, and a possible future president promises to overturn President Obama’s executive orders, he’s set in motion significant public interest in keeping U.S. relations with Cuba open, McCoy said.

“His executive regulations, which could be rolled back by a future president, have the weight of public opinion and private sector interest behind them,” she explained.

Longtime former congressman Lee Hamilton, now a distinguished scholar in the Indiana University School of Global and International Studies and a professor of practice in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, agreed that “the American public seems to lopsidedly support the new initiatives toward Cuba.” “We in the United States have to have confidence that over time as we engage more with the Cuban people politically, diplomatically, economically, that Cuba will move in the right direction,” he added. “We have to chip away at the distress that has built up over the decades.”

The communist Cuban government, which now must respond to the president’s overtures, also faces a balancing act in both embracing this new American openness, yet it must also keep from going back to the extremes of pre-revolutionary Cuba.

“The Cuban government wants to have gradual and controlled change in order not to be overwhelmed by a sudden influx of American money, tourists, and investors,” McCoy said, “nor a return to the corruption and inequality associated with the U.S. presence prior to the revolution.”