After the ceremonial chapter, Cuba now needs to be opened up to the world

Following the ceremonies, the moment of truth has arrived. The hoisting of the stars and stripes above the U.S. Embassy in Havana today signals the end of the ceremonial chapter of the historic thaw between Cuba and the United States. Relations had been frozen for 54 years. This chapter began on July 20 in an identical ceremony, in which the Cuban flag was hoisted in Washington. Barack Obama’s government wanted to highlight this historic milestone with the first official visit to Cuba in 70 years; and this was carried out by John Kerry, currently the most senior figure in U.S. foreign policy.

The next fundamental chapter in normalizing Cuba-U.S. relations is now beginning. This includes lifting the trade embargo and the complete opening up of Cuba to the world, as well as freedom of movement to and from the island – matters which will require a lot more than gestures from both governments, as well as cooperation from Congress, currently controlled by the Republicans.

If Democratic interests and principals divide U.S. opinion about Cuba’s half-century of isolation, this contradiction is even more alive in the Republican Party. On the one hand, some members of Congress are inclined to be in favor of lifting the embargo. However, on the other hand, some presidential candidates favor a hawkish attitude toward normalizing relations and are accustomed to using the specter of Cuban communism as much to radicalize the presidential election campaign as to accuse the weak and placatory Democratic president in the last stretch of his term.

Today’s ceremony leaves no doubts about Washington’s aim, which definitively rejects the idea of promoting a change in the regime, as has happened in its relations with Tehran. There will be no room for the opposition in the official hoisting of the flag, but the secretary of state will subsequently meet Cuba’s representatives. This does not mean that the matter of Cuban rights has disappeared from Obama’s agenda. Nothing favors a dictatorship’s deadlock quite like isolation from its neighbors and the world on an economic and commercial level as well as a cultural and tourist level. Therefore the best way to promote a transition to democracy, as is needed in Cuba, is an opening up just like that which Washington is pushing for Cuba.

The tasks that must now be undertaken don’t just concern the two directly implicated governments. Societies, Cuban and Cuban-American societies in particular, as well as European and Latin American governments, will also have a hand to play in facilitating the quickest possible transition towards a Cuba that is open to the world, prosperous and ultimately democratically free. This is the chapter in which the Spanish government finds itself at fault and with a particular responsibility to make up for lost ground in this post-Cold War stage, which has been prolonged for a quarter of a century in the Caribbean, thanks to, inter alia, the ineptitude of Spanish and European foreign policy.