Fifty-three years! Almost a lifetime — that’s how long the former capital friends of the 19th century, Havana and Washington, have severed all ties, been arch enemies and scolded each other at every opportunity. In 1962, their crazy fight brought the world on the verge of a catastrophe, when Khrushchev installed Russian missiles on the island, just 80 kilometers from Florida. And today, it’s the Russians again, at the time ready to start a nuclear apocalypse, who have now accelerated things and pushed America toward reconciliation by going back to Cuba and thus showing the Americans that they too need to take action.
They needed to make a quick move after Putin’s visit to Havana last summer, when he very generously and in a politically well-thought manner erased 90 percent of Fidel Castro’s old debt to Moscow and agreed to reopen the old Russian spy base in Lourdes, south of Havana, which was initially opened in 1967. This forced the U.S. to move fast, after it became clear to everyone that Russia wanted to reassert itself as a fierce geopolitical enemy of the United States and that its response to the sanctions brought against it would be to establish a presence right in the West’s backyard, one step from American borders on land, sea and even extraterrestrial space, extending the terrestrial stations of the Russian space communication system – GLONASS – into Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Both Cuba and Latin America are now an older Russian challenge, dating back to the days of the Cold War when the U.S. was forced to fight back fast, and so, on Dec. 17, President Barack Obama announced the reestablishment of full diplomatic relations, as well as the elimination of economic and travel restrictions to Cuba, stating that this is the end of America’s previous stance toward the communist island separating the two Americas. “Isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach,” he said during a speech at the White House. This speech won him a well-deserved place among the most important politicians of the 21st century.
In the upcoming months, meetings will be held among country officials, embassies will open in both capitals, American commercial sanctions will be relaxed and even eliminated, travel will be unrestricted, and American visitors will be able to come home with Cuban cigars and rum, which haven’t been available in America for over half a century. Cuba will be open for neighboring America, and America will be open for Cuba, which was one of the favorite destinations of Americans back in the ’60s.
Secretary of State John Kerry also announced the revision of Cuba’s current status as a sponsor for international terrorism, as it’s classified in American documents. However, problems are expected. A 1996 American law requires evidence of clear progress toward democracy in Cuba, as well as free elections and the dissolution of the political police, etc. Moreover, due to Raul Castro’s old age, there will probably be a political transition in Cuba, and surely, the Americans will have suggestions and will want to have a say in the matter.
After the Democrats lost the elections on Nov. 4, and the Republicans took over both chambers of the United States Congress, normalizing relations with communist Cuba can be considered a major win and a significant political “retaliation” for Obama. This is an awakening for America; it marks the return to smart and practical policies under a smart and pragmatic president, set to promote his country’s best interests during the last period of his mandate. All this at a time that American presidents usually begin evaluating their legacy and writing books to make their passing into history as visible as possible, and are less preoccupied with making important policies, whether domestic or external. From this point of view, Obama’s Cuban saga is atypical and does him justice.
Since Nixon, other presidents have tried to have a dialogue with Fidel Castro – Carter and Clinton – but the circumstances were not in their favor. Today, the Castro brothers have aged significantly, and a post-Castro political structure is beginning to form on the island. Its main oil and finance supplier, Venezuela, is in trouble, and the Cubans like Obama more than his predecessors in the White House during the last 35 to 40 years. Therefore, making amends with America seems desirable.
However, lifting the embargo and travel restrictions doesn’t mean that the relations between the countries will turn over night. Dozens of years later, former Cuban exiles in the U.S. are now able to save enough money to “buy” the island and, together with other American investors, impose a new North American economic model, wiping away the country’s current social status and the nationalist tendencies, along with national stability. A transition to something else is necessary in Cuba, but it needs to happen gradually with the social costs being as low as possible. Finally, stepping away from communism is also necessary, and renewing relations with America is only going to accelerate this process. Let’s remember, however, that there have been dictators who managed to raise their countries and set them on the right historical paths, like Francisco Franco in Spain.
Only time will tell what kind of dictators Fidel and Raul Castro will be.