It’s a fair question, because after two years of dialogue — secret up until Dec. 17, and public from then on — there have been very favorable developments, if we compare them to the state of mutual hostility that colored relations between the two countries from January 1959 until that day last December. Just during the preceding two weeks, two very important events occurred: The interest section and future embassy of Cuba in Washington was able to open a bank account after getting a license from the Department of the Treasury. Even more important, Cuba was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism; aside from there not being any valid grounds for a country to decide this unilaterally, there is, in any case, no moral or legal reason to include Havana on the list.
However, almost all of the punitive provisions against those on the list of state sponsors of terrorism are contained in the fabric of laws that make up the economic, commercial, financial and media blockade of the island. To this, the laws that give economic support to the weak and discredited internal and external counterrevolution must be added.
So the removal of Cuba from this list, although it undeniably constitutes proof of good will on Washington’s part, has to be valued principally on moral grounds. Beyond this, it cannot be ruled out that there might be a positive psychological impact on some entities such as travel agencies, airlines and shipping lines. This would be due to the fact that, although they have wanted to establish links with the island, they have held off from doing so for fear of the draconian fines imposed by the United States on banks and entities that maintain economic links with the island.
This psychological aspect is so important that the mere fact of having announced the process of re-establishing relations, and the discrete steps that have accompanied it, have significantly increased the stream of visitors to Cuba. So far this year, visitors from the United States have increased 36 percent, from the U.K. 26 percent, from France 25 percent, from Germany 22 percent and from Spain 16 percent.
It is very significant that the new measure favors the use of executive authority by President Obama. If he has the political will to do it, he may notify Congress that it is in the national interest to suspend the blockade where it pertains to prohibiting international financial organizations that the U.S. controls — the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Inter-American Development Bank — from dealing with Cuba. In reality, if it is certain that only Congress can repeal the blockade, it is no less certain that the president has the prerogative of making it into an empty shell with the stroke of a pen.
Also in the last four months, events of exceptional symbolic importance, and some not so symbolic, have occurred. Among them was the apparently auspicious visit by an official U.S. delegation that provided information about new measures to alleviate the blockade in this sector and was informed by their counterparts about the prohibitions still in force that are impeding the normalization of relations on this matter.
Along these same lines, there was the re-establishment of the ferry line between Florida and Havana, suspended for decades; the license for a New York hospital to conduct a clinical trial on the efficacy of a Cuban lung cancer vaccine; the much applauded visit to Havana by the Minnesota Orchestra; participation of U.S. boats in the Ernest Hemingway fishing tournament, for the first time in a long time; and the friendly soccer match between the New York Cosmos and the Cuban national team.
As can be seen, it is progressing by slow but sure steps in a process that President Raúl Castro described as long and complex. The essential issue, the lifting of the blockade, has not been resolved, and there is no idea when it will be resolved. Right now, with regard to the embassies’ reopening, the agreement that the parties must reach on the application of the Vienna Convention to their respective facilities and diplomats in each country is very important; this is without even getting into such old Cuban claims as the return of the base at Guantanamo. The United States is not known for being very respectful of the norms, nor is Cuba known for permitting their contravention.