The thawing process of the relationship between Cuba and the U.S., which began suddenly at the end of last year, will experience another explosion today and tomorrow with the historic meeting between high-level diplomats from both countries, which will take place in Havana.
Josefina Vidal will be present on behalf of Cuba; she will be in charge of U.S. affairs for the Ministry of Foreign Relations, and her liaison will be Roberta Jacobson, deputy secretary of the Western hemisphere for the Department of State. Today, the delegations will spend the day seeking consensus on immigration.
It’s a historic event to the extent that this is the first meeting between high-level government officials from both countries in 35 years. There are high expectations based on the commotion caused throughout the world by relaxing the trade embargo. It’s good to remember that its purpose will go as far as Obama’s executive powers permit, taking into account that the embargo’s total removal is in the hands of a Republican-held Congress.
The latter should be considered when anticipating what results can come from a meeting whose main goals are to review agreements made in the past, with the objective that immigration between both countries have clear rules and that the embassies begin to function.
If at the end, in addition to success on these two points, items end up prioritized in an extensive agenda and both a roadmap and timeline are defined that allow both countries to reconstruct relations, it could be said that a decisive step has been taken.
It will help that the initial atmosphere is positive; in keeping with its agreement with Washington, Cuba freed 53 political prisoners. Obama, doing his part, expedited a packet of measures in December that were also part of this initial agreement. Preliminary steps that demonstrate good intentions by both parties — that is already a significant advance when compared to the outlook only months ago.
The fact is, the road is long and does not only involve governments; it also involves the people. In Cuba’s case, the challenge is to transition from hostility to coexistence. This shift includes changing a deeply rooted history among the people in which the U.S. plays the role of the antagonist, the scapegoat. Although there have also been well-intentioned demonstrations, like those on the streets of Havana after both officials got together to make the announcement, it remains to be seen how representative those are.
This same facet is more important in the U.S. because it is a democracy. Let’s discuss the Pew Center survey, according to which 63 percent of that country’s citizens would be in favor of lifting the embargo. We should also mention the letter published this week and signed by 78 politicians and former officials of both parties, in which they declared that the approach to the relationship between the two countries during the past few decades was wrong.
In summary, we have before us the first stone of a long reconstruction. The next step will be to lay cement on as yet unstable ground. But it’s a good start.