A thaw in Cuba


President Obama has yet to achieve one of his first-term diplomatic goals: improved relations with Cuba. Current developments argue for a more-open approach to the Caribbean island nation by the rest of the world, and vice versa.

Former longtime Cuban dictator Fidel Castro is feeble. His brother Raul, now president, is 81 years old. Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, who has helped the Cuban economy for years by providing cut-rate oil, appears to be dying. His succession is unclear.

Almost none of what is happening in Cuba is the result of U.S. policy, which largely consists of waiting for the Castros to die, then figuring out what to do next. Currently, neoconservatives are skewering Mr. Obama’s nominee for secretary of Defense, former Sen. Chuck Hagel, as soft on Cuba.

There is no reason for the United States not to have decent relations with Cuba — which is 90 miles from the American mainland — 54 years after the Castros came to power, 52 years after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, and 22 years after communism stopped being a threat to the United States with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Cuba has liberalized the ability of most of its citizens to travel abroad, including to the United States. Cubans still must get a passport from their government before traveling, as Americans do, but they now can leave the island and return, pretty much without hindrance.

One reason for the change of policy was economic: Cuba was losing too many of its trained workers, especially doctors, through travel outside the country that turned into exile.

Whatever the Castro government’s motivation, the change should be commended as a general, if slight, lifting of a still-autocratic government’s heavy hand off its people’s neck. It deserves a positive response from Washington.