Cuba – US Relations One Year Later

By Beatriz Juez (dpa)

Illustration: Yasser Castellanos
Illustration: Yasser Castellanos

HAVANA TIMES — The long enmity between the Cuban and US governments didn’t come to an end when the bilateral thaw was announced. New challenges begin to crystallize a year after the historical rapprochement between the two ideological rivals began, experts believe.

Though some consider Havana has more pending issues to resolve, everyone agrees that the announcement made on December 17, 2014 gave rise to a new era between both countries.

“We shouldn’t underestimate the power of symbolism,” John McAuliff, executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, tells DPA. McAuliff recalls that, a little over a year ago, the United States did not directly deal with Cuba at international fora and now the two governments hold frequent meetings.

“We’ve made more progress in a year than in the past 40,” says an equally satisfied James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, an organization calling for the lifting of the embargo and an end to restrictions on travel to the island by US citizens.

“If we put this in the context of the 54 years in which no progress has been made in any of the central bilateral issues, I believe things are moving at great speed. Would we like things to move more quickly? Of course,” Williams opines.

“Progress goes beyond symbolism, which is also important,” president of the think tank Dialogo Interamericano Michael Shifter believes.

Juan Carlos Hidalgo, Latin American public policies analyst working for the CATO institute, states that “much of the enthusiasm surrounding Cuba this year has a lot more to do with what the United States is doing with respect to Cuba than what Cuba is doing with respect to itself. Now, the focus of attention is on the island,” he comments.

That said, the progress made last year would have been unthinkable not long ago. In 12 months, Washington and Havana have not only reopened their embassies but have also reached environmental agreements, have exchanged prisoners, taken steps forward in issues of telecommunications and aviation and have reached an agreement to re-establish direct postal services, among other achievements.

Castro and Obama have met on two occasions and spoken on the phone several times. US State Secretary John Kerry, Trade Minister Penny Pritzker, Minister for Agriculture Tom Visalck and three US governors have visited the island.

Some 2 million Cubans live in the United States. Illustration: Yasser Castellanos
Some 2 million Cubans live in the United States. Illustration: Yasser Castellanos

The United States has also relaxed aspects of its embargo and travel restrictions, and Congress has several bills submitted to dismantle the embargo altogether.

However, there are still many pending issues after more than half a century of hostilities.

Experts consulted by DPA concur that, in order for relations between the two countries to be normalized, the United States must lift the embargo and the travel restrictions applied to US citizens. Cuba is the only country in the world that US citizens are not allowed to visit as tourists.

“The term normalization means a relationship like any other, a normal relationship,” Hidalgo explains. “The embargo is an act of economic war,” McAuliff claims.

Though President Barack Obama has implemented several measures to relax restrictions, he cannot decree the lifting of the embargo on his own. Only Congress, with a Republican majority, can fully eliminate the embargo.

“The next step would be to lift the embargo, but I don’t think the Republicans have any intention of doing this,” says Wayne Smith, director of the Center for International Policy’s Cuba Project.

Smith, who has been calling for talks between Havana and Washington for years, points out that the United States has yet to appoint an ambassador to Cuba because the Republicans would veto him.

“Compensation for US properties (nationalized on the island after 1959) and the reparations that Cubans are demanding for the damage caused by the economic embargo are also on the table. The issue of Guantanamo also has to be addressed at some point,” says Shifter, who believes one of the thorniest issues has to do with democracy and human rights on the island.

“It’s fascinating to see how things have progressed in many ways and how many challenges lie ahead,” the president of Engage Cuba concludes.

15 thoughts on “Cuba – US Relations One Year Later

  • December 20, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    Retirement somewhere other than Cuba will allow Raul Castro a kind of privacy not afforded the former General in charge of the Cuban military, let alone the Cuban President and Communist Party Secretary. Hence, the ‘leaving Cuba’ rumors are more credible. Just given the wealth generated by CubaCel, the security needs of the Castro family is assured for generations. I share your comment that the Castros care little about the economic fortunes of the Cuban people. If they did, things would be very different today.

  • December 19, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    Ironically, and for reasons very different from what you might like, the embargo will be lifted soon. Not to finally allow Cuba’s so-called socialist economy flourish, but to allow US corporations to do business with the Castro regime’s state-corporate enterprises. Cuba has almost completed the transition from Marxist-Leninist state to a fascist one. Lifting the embargo will be the icing on the fascist cake.

  • December 19, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    weirdly1: Raul’s private life has always been off limits to the state owned media. He isn’t talking about what his retirement plans are. What do retired dictators do with the rest of their lives? Play golf? Take up gardening?

    Moses: What you say is true, Cuba needs a lot of new capital to build an affluent society. But the regime doesn’t need that. They just need enough money to live comfortably & pay for the extensive state security. As far as the regime s concerned, the Cuban people can stay poor and docile.

  • December 18, 2015 at 11:49 am

    According to what I’ve heard in Cuba, Raul has stated that he is planning on retiring in 2 years and leaving Cuba. What then??? The Cubans I’ve talked to on the island have no clue.

  • December 18, 2015 at 8:57 am

    I’m not so sure Griffin. The problem is that the Castros need far more than an extra half million tourists to resurrect their economy. They need billions of dollars in capital investment. If the French, the Canadians, the Spanish, the Russians, etc. aren’t willing to take the risks if putting up this kind of money, I don’t see American businessmen as any less risk averse. Sure, there will be a lot of trade missions and photo ops but hard currency investment will be slow to come unless the Castros change their risk profile. Some say that includes Fidel Castro dead and gone.

  • December 18, 2015 at 8:47 am

    Old news. ….

  • December 17, 2015 at 8:11 pm

    You are correct.
    The embargo and the necessity to oppose/punish/destroy any possible alternative to free-enterprise capitalism ….like Cuba’s state capitalism ….is a bipartisan effort.
    The elected officials who make and keep the embargo possible are all of this mindset and the embargo will stay on regardless of what the Obama, the UN, public; the electorate may want.
    It’s been U.S policy for about one hundred years now and with about 900 or so bases in about 100 foreign countries, that economic imperialism has some years left to it.
    IMO, the embargo will go on until Cuba’s alternative economy is somehow no longer a threat to the very wealthy in the U.S.

  • December 17, 2015 at 8:02 pm

    NEWS FLASH !!!!!
    Fidel retired a number of years ago and doesn’t take part in this sort of thing.
    Just FYI.

  • December 17, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    if America could establish Diplomatic and Trading ties with Communist China which has bought Government Bonds to shore up the economy of America, why can’t America lift the embargo on Cuba and return the Guantanamo Base to Cuba whether there is a Republican President or Congress or whether it is a Democratic President or Congress, for the Principal of a thing is the principle of that thing! We should all be governed by principles! Is it right? Is it wrong?If it is right, pursue it; if it is wrong, correct it. The compass of our lives should be guided by Principles. The Policies we chart should be premised by Principles..

  • December 17, 2015 at 4:12 pm

    Drone captures views of long-forbidden island 01:55

    Washington (CNN)The
    United States and Cuba have reached an agreement to resume commercial
    air travel between the two countries for the first time in more than
    half a century, the State Department announced Thursday.

    arrangement will continue to allow charter operations and establish
    scheduled air service, which will facilitate an increase in authorized
    travel, enhance traveler choices and promote people-to-people links
    between the two countries,” according to the announcement.

    U.S. law still bars travel to Cuba for tourism.

    deal was finalized last night. The official could not say when flights
    would actually resume, because there are other steps the Federal
    Aviation Administration needs to take to ensure certain safety
    regulations are in place.

    Members of the airline industry praised the decision.

    in Cuba has reached levels not seen for a generation,” said Scott
    Laurence, senior vice president airline planning, JetBlue. “We will
    review the terms of the agreement to understand how JetBlue can expand
    from charter service to regularly scheduled service. Our years of
    experience in Cuba and unmatched customer experience positions JetBlue
    as the carrier of choice for travel to Cuba.”

    following today’s announcement, American Airlines plans to submit a
    U.S.-Cuba service proposal to the U.S. Department of Transportation with
    the hope of introducing scheduled service soon in 2016.

    renewal of air travel is the latest step in the thawing relationship
    between the two countries which persisted even after the Cold War ended.

    Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parilla traveled to Washington in July to re-open Cuba’s U.S. embassy, and Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Cuba a month later to re-open the U.S. embassy there for the first time since 1961.

    the United States shuttered our embassy in 1961, I don’t think anyone
    thought it would be more than half a century before it reopened,” Obama
    said in a July Rose Garden statement.

    in April, Obama met for an hour with his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro,
    the first time the two nations’ top leaders have sat down for
    substantive talks in more than 50 years.

    not all Cold War vestiges have been cast off — the embargo remains in
    place with support from Republican lawmakers who have railed against
    President Barack Obama’s efforts to renew relations with Cuba.

  • December 17, 2015 at 9:25 am

    Raul introduced the licences for self-employment in a limited scope in the 1990’s. In 2011, the list of permitted self-employed occupations was increased and the number of self-employed has grown. Co-operatives have existed in Cuba since the 1960’s. Therefore, neither of those things can be considered a response to Obama’s new policy of normalizing relations with Cuba. The only response we have seen so far is an increase in repression by the regime thugs. Every Sunday, dozens of dissidents are roughed up and arrested.

    What the Castro regime wants from the new diplomatic relationship with the US is money and regime survival. Given that the regime controls all import/export business and all the tourist resorts, that’s what they’re getting. Some money may flow to the Cuban people lucky enough to work as waiters, cab drivers, prostitutes or selling trinkets outside the resorts, but the real money and power is going to the regime. Simply put, there is no incentive on Raul Castro to change anything. So far Obama has given him everything he asks and in return he has given up nothing.

    The phrase “US backed Cuban dictator” use to refer to Fulgencio Batista. Today it is more & more applicable to Raul Castro.

  • December 16, 2015 at 5:33 pm

    It is not a Dems vs. Reeps issue. The Castros have no skin in the game yet. Until they take steps to rejoin the civilized world of democracratic countries, Obama and Congress should stand pat.

  • December 16, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    Once again I must point out that opposition to Obama’s Cuba policy is not a strictly Republican vs Democrat issue. There are several leading Democratic Senators & members of Congress who oppose Obama’s Cuba policy, in particular Senator Robert Menendez and Representative Diaz-Balart. Meanwhile, there are Republicans who support Obama, including Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona.

    This detail is important to keep in mind, because the real challenge to overcome the embargo issue is not for Obama to prevail over the Republicans in congress, but for the Castro regime to honestly show that it is interested in real change in Cuba. Because until the Castro regime institutes democratic political reforms and improves their atrocious human rights record, the embargo will stay.

    The shoe, or in his case, jackboot, is on Raul’s foot.

  • December 16, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    Castro is not the problem. It seems to be the conservative republican congress. Castro has responded by allowing individual small businesses and cooperative businesses in Cuba. Obama can’t drop the blockade without congressional approval.

  • December 16, 2015 at 7:31 am

    President Obama has clearly said and done quite a bit to establish his authentic intent to normalize relations. As the author states, it’s time for the Castros to respond.

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