Rev. Marshall Hatch (File)

Courageous and forward looking are words that I would use to describe President Obama’s reopening of diplomatic and trade channels to Cuba. Expect Obama’s opposition to come up with every criticism in the book. Cuba is still a communist dictatorship. But, it was also on the right side of history in opposing South African apartheid. Fidel Castro’s regime supported Nelson Mandela when the freedom fighters needed support the most. Today, Cubans on the island hunger for change. It is only 90 miles from the U.S. The old policy of isolation is not working. President Obama’s timing is right.

Ironically, one of the most forward thinking American politicians on Cuban policy has been former Illinois Governor George Ryan. He made mistakes, but as governor he led two high profile trade mission trips to Cuba. Ryan recognized the opportunities for Illinois businesses. As a Republican he was able to withstand the criticism that came with reaching out to Cuba. Things have changed. With Obama’s Cuban opening, Illinois corporate leaders are quickly lining up to do business with the Caribbean country. New global opportunities for Illinois means more business and jobs locally.

Many people in Austin have been having lively conversations about community economic development. Specifically, we have been looking for ways to revitalize Austin’s commercial strips on Madison Street, Chicago Avenue, Division Street and North Avenue. As our city attracts international capital and trade, Austinites will need to explore ways that we can get a piece of the pie. Reaching out to Governor-elect Bruce Rauner, we must make sure that the Westside is not left out of an Illinois economic revival. We need businesses that attract patrons from our Austin community and also the suburbs to the west. Opening Cuba matters because we can all benefit when new markets open and trade is expanded.

Viva Cuba! As the Obama policy evolves, we welcome Cuba to the world of global trade in the 21st Century. We commend President Obama for his courage. It will be interesting to see what other good surprises the president has in store as he uses the freedom of never having to stand for election again. Here’s to looking forward to the day we can enjoy a great Cuban cigar at a classy sports lounge on West Division Street in Austin. Viva Austin!

Rev. Marshall Hatch, Sr. is pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church and board chair of The Leader’s Network.