Thank you, President Obama, for moving to normalize relations with Cuba. There may have been some justification for the embargo back in 1961, when Fidel was hand in glove with the Soviets and they were considering placing missiles on the island. But we talked them out of that, so then what was our basis for the embargo? Well, Cuba was still "Commie", and we hated all Commies, so we continued to deprive them of the ability to buy things from us (which they probably couldn't have done because the Cuban people were and are dirt poor). And if we embargo trade, the Cubans will rise up and overthrow the dictator Fidel.
Worked really well, didn't it? True, Fidel isn't still in power; but he passed it to his brother. It's a dynasty.
When I say, "we hated all Commies," don't assume that every U.S. citizen in the 1950s and 1960s spent their leisure time muttering "I hate those Reds." A very small number of very loud people actually did do that, or something close to it (think John Birch Society); but for Joe Sixpak (we miss you, Art Hoppe), Communists were a sort of background threat, who mostly existed in the Soviet Union. Joe Sixpak was much more interested in his next raise, and his kid's baseball game.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, however, there has been No Rational Reason for us to embargo Cuba. Without the U.S.S.R. at its back, Cuba was (is) a tiny, poor country, without an army of any standing or any major weapons. We even lease Guantanamo from Cuba (in a 1903 treaty with a very different Cuba!), they're our landlord. Our loudly protesting landlord, but still.
In recent years we've embargoed countries when we really want them to change something: Iran, for their nuclear program; Russia, for its outrageous behavior in Ukraine. It is a short term embargo, based on the assumption that if they change their behavior, we'll remove the embargo. But somehow the embargo on Cuba was Sacred, because Fidel Castro (whose longevity is amazing) was Still In Power.
But Cuba is a dictatorship, yes? We can't do business with dictators! And what about Human Rights?
Oh, hell, we do business with dictators all the time. How long have we been buddies with the Saudis? How about China (speaking of human rights)? We talk to Iran, which has an elected tyrannical government. As for old dictators still in power, we have an embassy in Zimbabwe, despite Robert Mugabe's indifference to anyone's human rights except his pals'. The only dictator we really don't talk to is Kim Jong-Un, and he's crazy.
The embargo did two definite things. I'll let you decide if they were positive.
First, it gave Fidel Castro a gold plated gift - an Enemy he could blame things on. There's nothing a dictator likes more than an enemy he can point at, who he knows isn't really going to attack him. That was the U.S.
Second, it made the U.S. look silly, because everyone else in the world was talking to Cuba and they knew exactly what was going on there. It began to look even sillier when Cuban medical personnel built a reputation for showing up and helping in poor countries and in emergency situations - they've been really active in the Ebola crisis, even now that it's off the front page.
It's time we talked to Cuba. God knows when or whether Congress will ever lift the embargo; but we can talk to them without Congress' permission, and we should.