Clinton's new memoir, Hard Choices, reveals that Clinton advised President Obama to lift the embargo. "Since 1960, the United States had maintained an embargo against the island in hopes of squeezing [Fidel] Castro from power, but it only succeeded in giving him a foil to blame for Cuba's economic woes," Clinton writes.
The U.S. has eased economic sanctions against Cuba in recent years. President Obama lifted certain travel restrictions in 2009, allowing family members to visit and send remittances to the country. Tourism is still prohibited because the Cuban military operates the country's lucrative tourism industry, but “educational” trips serve much the same purpose.
While these gradual changes have met little resistance, supporters of the embargo contend that its unilateral removal would fritter away one of the United State's few bargaining chips with the Cuban regime. “Instead of strengthening [Cuban President Raul Castro] by lifting the embargo now, we should keep our powder dry and use it to strengthen democracy and influence his successor,” Marc Theissen said in 2008.
Embargo opponents like Clinton and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce argue in response that greater cooperation with Cuba will hasten its political liberalization and improve the lot of average Cubans.
Cuban political dissidents appear to disagree. Last week, 574 Cuban democracy activists signed their names to a letter rejecting efforts to ease sanctions. Support for the embargo is punishable by up to 15 years in prison in Cuba.
Additionally, former U.S. ambassador Robert Noreiga argues that economic deals with the Cuban regime are unlikely to enrich anyone but regime members. Noreiga notes that for the last 15 years, during Cuba's supposed reform period, businesses have only been permitted to enter the country if they agree to pay workers' salaries to the regime -- in other words, if they look the other way and accept slave labor.
However strong or weak its merits, Clinton’s revelation is noteworthy because of her presidential aspirations. No presidential hopeful has ever professed opposition to the embargo for long. While Obama called for its end in 2004, he backtracked on the campaign trail in 2007, especially in front of Cuban-American audiences.
As NPR notes, Clinton's break with precedent likely reflects the public's growing embargo fatigue, even among Cuban-Americans. Out of 648 Cuban-Americans polled in Miami-Dade County in 2011, 56 percent favored the embargo while 44 percent opposed it.
Support for the embargo is stronger among older Cuban-Americans, who are more likely to have experienced the brutality of Castro-era Cuba firsthand. More Cubans aged 18 to 44 oppose the embargo than support it.