HAVANA TIMES — The day in which Cuba and the United States decided to re-establish diplomatic relations has finally arrived but, beyond the lively enthusiasm this has awakened and despite all of the encouraging things that have been said, I harbor my doubts about all that remains to be done on this end.
December 17th was a unique day in the history of Cuba and perhaps the world. Without a doubt, the change in relations between the United States and the island will alter the climate of the continent’s geopolitical map and will likely have an impact on other parts of the world in the long run.
After 53 years of hostility and an aggressive political rhetoric, Washington and Havana have given their political and economic relationship a 180-turn. Though there are no defined agendas, the measures announced suggest that the embargo has been practically annulled.
But, is the goodwill behind this concrete act of reconciliation the same at both ends? As Cuba’s legendary cartoon character Elipidio Valdes says, “One has to see it to believe, pal.”
We were surprised by the simultaneous addresses of presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro. There were different reactions to these, because, for over half a century, there have existed two Cubas with two highly different stances and sentiments (which is why the addresses of the two leaders prompted so many mixed feelings).
The extreme Right in Miami must be feeling betrayed by the US president and certainly wants nothing to do with the Castro government. I feel, however, that it is time to shed old resentments and to adopt a new posture of reconciliation and tolerance, for the benefit of ordinary Cubans and all who aspire to build a better Cuba, here, not from abroad.
I know very well there are wounds that haven’t healed, but what Obama did yesterday has been the clearest display of why he is deserving of his Nobel Peace Prize. Yesterday, the first black president of the United States joined Gandhi and Mandela in the list of people who, in the name of peace, have put aside differences between countries. The leader’s goodwill was evident in his speech, where he made clear that their aim is chiefly the wellbeing of the Cuban people, which, without a doubt, has been the one most hurt by the political hostilities.
I’m Cuban and have lived my entire life surrounded by unfulfilled promises. The first thing that made me wary was the different tones of the two speeches. Obama’s sounded conciliatory, direct and improvised, while Raul Castro’s was short and read like a press note.
Underscoring the country’s differences with respect to democracy and human rights, the US president spoke of measures aimed at tracing a new course in relations with Cuba and to help the Cuban people. He thanked the two million Cubans and Cuban-Americans who live in the United States and have contributed to the country, and the 11 million Cubans on the island who share the hope of leading Cuba to a brighter future.
By contrast, during his speech, Castro reminded viewers that, since his appointment, he has always expressed an interest in re-establishing bilateral relations and added that all negotiations have been carried out “without renouncing a single principle of the revolution.” Given the circumstances, I felt the comment was rudely unnecessary.
The US administration announced the opening of a US Embassy in Havana and the normalization of diplomatic relations, in addition to a series of measures to broaden economic ties to the island and improve the situation of the Cuban people.
Obama also announced that the inclusion of Cuba on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism will be reviewed and that the Undersecretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs will head a delegation that will visit Havana in January of 2015, to take part in a round of negotiations on migratory issues. The US president even invited Raul Castro to participate at the Summit of the Americas to be held in Panama next April.
On this end, Raul stressed that the embargo is still an unresolved issue, as though he felt the steps taken were not enough and he were minimizing the fact that, even though the embargo hasn’t been officially lifted (because this requires the approval of Congress), the measures announced practically implied its elimination.
On Wednesday, Cuba got quite a lot without giving much in return. In fact, the news focused on the arrival of the three agents who had been imprisoned in the US and dealt with the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States as a secondary issue.
What will Cuba’s posture be, when it is time to make changes in domestic policy? Could it be they expect everything to change while everything at home remains the same? We just have to wait and see.