The pragmatism between Obama and Castro is opening the path of normalization between the United States and Cuba
Until yesterday, the Cold War had not ended in the Caribbean. The historic announcement of the beginning of the process to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba was made by the United States President Barack Obama from Washington, and the Cuban President Raúl Castro from Havana. After a half century long in setbacks, Obama spoke of “cut[ting] loose the anchor of the past, because it is entirely necessary to reach a better future.” The White House’s occupant, in the final stretch of his term, wants this decision to form part of his historical legacy.
It was well-known that the potential release of Alan Gross – imprisoned in Cuba since 2009 under the accusation of activities against the regime – would mean a change in Cuban/American relations. But the magnitude of that change wasn’t clear, and much less so that his release was included in a negotiation package that Cubans and Americans were going back and forth on for a year and a half, with a final phase where a mediator was shown to be essential in coming to an agreement: Pope Francis. n addition to Gross, a Cuban national that Obama called “one of the most important intelligence agents that [we have] ever had in Cuba,” has been returned to Washington, which in turn has handed over to Havana three Cubans who had been detained in the USA.
And so, a new chapter between both nations has begun, but the decision doesn’t just change the history of the last half-century. However, it may change it for the next half-century. Obama has anticipated that the Cuban civil society shall participate in the Summit of the Americas next April in Panama, in the same way that the groups from the other nations in the hemisphere are contributing. The likelihood that it may trigger significant political changes in Cuba is difficult to predict. But it does certainly deal an announcement that the Cuban dissidents have often listened for with hope.
There is also an important continental derivative: The changes will not just have repercussions on the Caribbean island. The Venezuelan government under President Nicolás Maduro – whose principle international support is in fact, Cuba – will already have evaluated the implications for its own – difficult – sustainability. The context that it was able to support Chavism for Cuba has drastically just changed. Moreover, those in the U.S. Congress requesting sanctions against the Venezuelan officials will be listened to more closely in the White House. The result could lead to major international isolation for Maduro and his government.
The door has been opened; now the journey to uncertain results has been launched. The lifting of the embargo, for example, needs a vote from the U.S. Congress, where the Republican opposition is in the majority. In the meantime, measures are already being put in place such as greater economic cooperation, an increase in trade, commerce and telecommunications and fund remittances to the island. Turning its policy 180 degrees from how it was in 1961, the White House also will propose revising Cuba’s status as a nation that sponsors terrorism. What Obama has proposed to Congress is to begin moving toward lifting the embargo, which he referred to self-critically, and calling up the quote from Albert Einstein when he said: “We cannot keep doing the same thing … and expect a different result.”
At the beginning of his administration, in 2009, Obama said that his government would not give lessons to the rest of United States and maintained that he desired to listen to and discuss issues on equal footing. It is likely that his decision about Cuba is a fundamental gesture to make those words entirely believable to those south of the Rio Grande and to the rest of the world.