Such an important and anticipated decision is a step that brings Washington and Havana closer to full re-establishment of relations—a process that started in December after a half-century schism. But there is still a long way to go.
Re-establishing trust after so many years of ideological confrontation is not easy. Over the last few months, the U.S. president has had to deal with a full-fledged Republican Congress — along with some Democratic representatives — in total opposition. Despite the positive response from Latin America — and the Caribbean in particular — those who oppose the measure are willing to set obstacles at each step of the way; if they fail, they at least hope to boycott the process to whatever extent possible. With elections approaching next year, they know that the current leader’s future legacy will be comprised of the current steps taken with Cuba, as well as the agreement that is expected to be reached with Iran regarding the reduction of its nuclear capabilities and their peaceful use. So now you see.
The president’s request to Congress to take Cuba off the black list should come into effect in 45 days. In order to make this request, Obama certified that within the past six months Cuba has had no links with terrorist activities and that Havana guarantees no future ones. We must not forget that Cuba was put on this list in 1982 because to its support of FARC and ETA. In fact, Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, was consulted by the U.S. regarding Colombia’s standing with Cuba; Santos’ positive response was a determining factor in this decision.
Republicans didn’t waste any time charging back and have already unleashed some attacks. Important figures like presidential hopeful Senator Marco Rubio, along with infamous representatives like Mario Díaz Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, have not minced any words in their disapproval – “deplorable,” “shameful” — since consenting to Cuba puts U.S. security at risk. Following the results in Panama, the fact is the White House is gambling everything on Congress’s approval of the request. It is believed that even if a joint resolution revokes the decision, Obama would veto it. Within the next month and a half, we will see who wins the bout.
What would follow from the dialogue sustained by both parts is the formal opening of embassies in both Washington and Havana. Both offices would thus be reoccupied by their respective ambassadors when both parties deem the moment is right. As a pertinent practical matter, it is worth mentioning that once the president’s request is approved, Cuba will finally be able to open up a bank account for its diplomatic headquarters. Beyond their anecdotal interest, these facts foreground the difficulties in reestablishing full bilateral relations after so many years of estrangement.
Another important news item is Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba following his visit to the U.S. later this year. Within this context, perhaps the most complex issue to resolve is the full end of the embargo placed on the island. To the extent that reason and good judgment rule negotiations and keep on furnishing good results such as those we saw this past week, we should expect the paradox under which both countries have lived — close and yet so far apart — to eventually end.
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