The United States and Cuba are burying the hatchet. On Wednesday Dec. 17, Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced a normalization of relations between the two countries. An American Embassy will open in Cuba and the lifting of the embargo will be examined. Thomas Snégaroff, Director of Research at IRIS and a U.S. specialist, decodes this historic moment.

Describing the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba as a historic moment is by no means an exaggeration. The era that we are living in is highly symbolic and undoubtedly important. The course of history is in the midst of changing before our eyes, through the actions of men.

In order to properly measure the significance of this moment, one must keep in mind that relations between these two countries have been severed for more than half a century (53 years). The U.S. president at the time was Eisenhower. The economic embargo was in force for 52 years!

In short, the unexpected nature of this rapprochement — despite the successive relaxations that had been observed in recent years — and the symbolism of Barack Obama and Raul Castro’s simultaneous speeches further reinforce the magnitude of this event.

Obama’s Concession Speech

Beyond the exceptional aspect of this rapprochement, the words that Barack Obama used during his speech are also worth analyzing. In fact, we can say that the U.S. president’s address was a concession speech.

While the social and economic situation in Cuba is not triumphant, as the country is characterized by extreme poverty and only survives through tourism and Venezuelan aid, it is clear that the United States has now decided to reach out to its neighbor.

For almost half a century, the American doctrine regarding Cuba has nevertheless been both simple and uncompromising: No relations with the country as long as Castro remains in power and democracy is disregarded. Yet today, relations have been reestablished, although a Castro is still the head of a country under an authoritarian regime.

Barack Obama has reluctantly admitted that the strategy aimed at isolating the Castro regime had not produced the expected results. He has thus chosen to change strategy. And Cuba, in light of its situation, had no other choice but to accept.

Both Countries Have a Shared Interest

Fundamentally, economic interests for both Cuba and the U.S. have driven this rapprochement. For half a century, the history between these two countries has been shaped by ideological confrontation. For the first time, pragmatism has prevailed.

The interest in working together is indeed a shared one. This is because the U.S. abandoned a sizable market a long time ago by turning its back on Cuba. It cut itself off from its own “Mediterranean,” and had thus also lost a degree of influence in Latin America. Reaching out to Cuba also signifies an attempt to regain influence throughout this continent.

As for Cuba, its population paid a heavy price for this isolation, especially since the dissolution of the USSR. The significant economic reforms established by Raul Castro in recent years, which have somewhat liberalized the local economy, already constituted quite a notable sign of reorientation. The rapprochement falls into this line, while Cuba’s ally Venezuela is weakened.

In short, the stance of U.S. public opinion on the matter also partly explains Obama’s strategy, without a doubt. Two-thirds of the American population was in favor of rapprochement, and now — only very recently — Cuban-Americans who were once against Castro are in favor as well.

Closing the Books on the Cold War

Will this rapprochement allow Obama to continue to make history? In any case, he is partly justifying the Nobel Peace Prize that he was awarded in 2009, a decision which was greatly criticized at that moment in time.

Once again, we can see this man’s brand of extreme pragmatism in what just took place. As president of a declining America, faced with economic difficulties and persistent problems in the Middle East, Barack Obama is aware that Cuba is no longer a major issue or a powerful marker. He thus bears the consequences.

Through this rapprochement strategy, he hopes to close the books on the Cold War once and for all. He is attempting to put an end to a problem which is no longer necessary, relevant or a priority.

And he is doing whatever he can to ensure that we cannot reproach him for helping turn Cuba into a failed state, like Iraq or Afghanistan had become, through the actions of one of the White House’s predecessors.