Although the handshake between George H.W. Bush and Gorbachev in 1989 was used to bury the Cold War, there are still some traces of that period in which the planet was divided into two large blocks. However, yesterday was a historic day because the most symbolic and important of those traces reached an end: the breakdown of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba that has lasted for almost five and a half decades. Both countries announced the imminent reopening of embassies and the reestablishment of political relations on July 20. “We don’t have to be imprisoned by the past. When something isn’t working, we can and will change,” Obama stated. The decision concludes a long and complex process of negotiations between Washington and Havana that became fruitful last December when the American president announced the thaw between the two countries.
The rapprochement is good news. Its consequences will benefit not only these two countries but also the whole international community, since the current situation represents an abnormal and festering problem that has spoiled the whole American continent and relations between Europe and America for decades. The thaw was directly driven by Obama. During his last State of the Union address, he made clear that Cuba and Iran are important matters for his legacy in international politics. This will undoubtedly result in something very positive for the economy or cooperation in matters of security and the fight against drug trafficking. It will also have an impact on the relations between the Cuban exiles in the U.S. and their relatives on the island. However, Castro stressed yesterday that the total return to normalcy “will not be possible while the blockade still exists, while they don’t give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantánamo naval base.”
With all that, it should not be understood that the White House takes this step without exerting any pressure in return on the Castro dictatorship to start a true democratic transition and to start respecting human rights which have been harshly ignored. In fact, once the formal negotiations began in some of the Washington and Havana delegations, the Castro regime enacted stricter repression against dissidence by increasing the number of arbitrary arrests and harassing the opposition. In June, some exile groups in Miami declared that “the dramatic repressive increase” was due to this feeling of impunity that the Castro regime had when relations with the United States started to improve. In its recent annual report, the U.S. Department of State itself highlighted the systematic violation of human rights in Havana since the start of the negotiations. Thus, it is understandable, in part, why Republicans reject this rapprochement.
Some weeks ago, the White House removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, which was also important. Obama wants to put an end to the embargo, which has not only proved to be unfair and ineffective, but has also been used as a propagandistic alibi for decades in order to disguise Castro’s economic failure, something which has condemned Cubans to misery. Let’s not forget that the regime has survived thanks to help from foreign allies: the USSR in the past, and Venezuela recently. Now Cuba is deep into economic liberalization even if it is using the Chinese communist regime as a model and hence, freedom is missing. This unacceptable aspiration will turn the new period of relations with America into something more complicated.
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