The beginning of the normalization of relations between Cuba and the U.S., announced yesterday in two separate speeches by leaders Raul Castro and Barack Obama, represents a historic triumph for the society and government of the island, and it is an event that will lend transcendence to the presidential career of the latter.
The normalization initially includes re-establishing diplomatic ties between both countries, broken since 1961, and mitigating, on the White House's part, the brutal, inhumane and illegal embargo that has been placed on the island for more than half a century. It represents the beginning of cooperative action on matters of health, immigration, the fight against terrorism and drug traffic; disaster response, improvements to transportation, trade and increase of information between the two countries, as well as the authorization of bilateral tourism and financial exchanges. The permanent removal of the blockade will be in the hands of the U.S. Congress, as it requires changes to the law, and Obama urged lawmakers to engage "in an honest and serious debate" on the matter.
In the spirit of normalization, the countries agreed to free, on Cuba's part, contractor Alan Gross, who was imprisoned for five years for trying to install an unauthorized telecommunications network, and an anonymous spy who has been in prison for two decades. The U.S. agreed to free three of the five Cuban intelligence agents who were still being held in prison since their capture in 1998, when they were found to be gathering information on terrorist activities in Miami.
The liberation of the five, regarded as heroes in their country, is also a cause of celebration for the government and society, which mobilized repeatedly to demand their release. Their return also represents the fulfillment of a promise, made over a decade ago by former President Fidel Castro, to bring the five back to Cuba.
Without question, we can conclude from Obama's speech yesterday that the desire of United States politicians to asphyxiate Cuba's government by political, diplomatic, commercial and financial means has failed, as happened before when Washington attempted to overthrow Fidel Castro by military means and terrorist attacks. Recognizing that traditional policy against the island came from “an outdated approach” that “failed,” the U.S. president himself stated that such policy “does not serve America’s interests or the Cuban people,” that it represents the “shackles of the past” and that it has involved a useless effort to try to “push Cuba toward collapse.”
In short, as far as Cuba is concerned, Washington's hostility-driven policy has come to an end — even though the change to the embargo laws is still pending — and this result has occurred without Havana making any concessions in its political and economic model. As President Castro himself expressed yesterday, the secret bilateral dialogue that resulted in the announcements has been developed “without undermining" Cuba's "national independence and self-determination."
Such announcements are also an achievement of paramount importance by Pope Francis, the Argentine pontiff who took the initiative in mediating discussions between Havana and Washington in order to achieve the normalization of bilateral relations, and of Canadian diplomacy, which helped in the process. Similarly, this development demonstrates the fairness of the position taken by Latin American governments, which advocated for decades for the end of official hostility against Cuba.
Obama has before him, from this moment on, the double challenge of facing the anger of his country’s most reactionary sectors, who have received the news with tangible disapproval, and promoting the lifting of the embargo in Congress. However, regardless of how Obama fares in these tasks, we must recognize the courage and determination he has shown in undertaking a clear and unequivocal distancing from one of the most shameful and aggravating — and of the most embedded aspects — of his country’s foreign policy.