End of Cuban Embargo Finds Electoral Support

December 30, 2014 Updated: December 30, 2014

A majority of Americans support ending economic and trade restrictions with Cuba, a recent YouGov poll found, days after President Obama moved to normalize relations with the island nation.

The poll, conducted between Dec. 20 and 22, shows that only a quarter of Americans oppose ending the embargo, and just under half support re-establishing diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba.

Support for a political and economic reconciliation with the regime has remained steady in recent years, and around half of Americans have favored ending the embargo through the 2000s, according to Gallup polls.

This is not the first time Obama has acted to reconcile with Cuba. The administration reopened “people-to-people” travel to Cuba in 2011, which allowed U.S. citizens to visit Cuba for non-tourist, educational purposes.

Estimates of how many Americans travel to Cuba legally on cultural exchanges range from around 70,000 to 100,000 a year.

Still, the reforms the administration announced on Dec. 17 are orders of magnitude wide in scope, and aim to dismantle the economic and political barriers that have isolated the two countries since the 1960s.

A White House release outlines plans to open up trade between the two countries, rehabilitate Cuban financial institutions, and quadruple the current remittance caps from $500 to $2,000.

The president’s move has been rebuked by Republican lawmakers as an appeasement to Cuba’s communist dictatorship, some of whom have promised to block the diplomatic reforms.

“Relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone normalized, until the Cuban people enjoy freedom,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whose parents were Cuban refugees, emerged as a vocal critic of the president and has promised to use all means available to block the appointment of an ambassador to Cuba.

Latitude to Change

However, most experts say that the existing statutes on Cuban embargoes give the president a wide latitude on implementation.

“The executive branch’s power to extend, revise, and modify the … embargo provisions is unfettered,” Robert Muse, a Washington D.C.-based lawyer, recently wrote.

The enforcement of various embargoes falls under the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which falls under the authority of the president.

Cuba also faces trade restrictions under regulations from the Department of Commerce because it has been on the State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism since 1982, along with Sudan, Syria, and Iran.

To be removed from the list, Cuba has to have not provided support for international terrorism in the last six months and assure that it will not do so in the future. According to reports, Secretary of State John Kerry is doing a review of Cuba’s status on the terror list, although a State Department report from last year still holds Cuba responsible for harboring members of left-wing paramilitary groups.

“Cuba has long provided safe haven to members of the Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC),” the report states. “Throughout 2013, the Government of Cuba supported and hosted negotiations between the FARC and the Government of Colombia aimed at brokering a peace agreement between the two.”

Even if trade restrictions are released, however, economic barriers would still persist between the United States and Cuba that would require cooperation from Congress to remove.

“Investment in Cuba is still prohibited. They talk about donative remittances to Cuba. So you can give money to the small Cuban private sector to establish businesses, things of that sort, but you can’t really invest in Cuba,” Muse said on Democracy Now radio. “The U.S. commercial sector will be allowed to sell to Cuba, but in what appear to be quite limited ways right now—agricultural equipment, goods to the small Cuban private sector.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.