Cuba-US detente: The long road ahead

The reopening of embassies and establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US after 54 years marks the start of a new chapter in relations between the once estranged countries. Diplomatic engagement opens another road towards resolving many issues that have bedevilled relations between these two neighbours. But there are many difficult and long-standing differences that will require persistent efforts to resolve in moving from destructive conflict to constructive engagement. The development has been welcomed globally, and is especially welcome in the Americas. It is important to note various historical and political factors at work.

President Obama had indicated his intention to improve relations with Cuba as long back as 2005. But the opposition of hard-line Cuban Americans and their representatives in the Congress, and the imprisonment of USAID worker Alan Gross in 2009 stalled progress. The recent thaw began with the release of Alan Gross from a Cuban prison in exchange for the release of five Cubans imprisoned in the US since 1998 for spying. Gross was suffering from medical problems and there was a strong effort by the Jewish lobby to secure his release. The Vatican and Canada facilitated contacts that led to the agreement for the mutual release of Gross and the “Cuban five”. Gross’s release by the Cubans resulted in the Jewish lobby supporting détente with Cuba. A New Cuba-PAC has been set up to press for normalising relations with Cuba. The success on this front encouraged President Obama and President Raul Castro to move further, and led to the decision to resume full diplomatic relations, broken off in 1961.

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US-Cuba thaw: New Year & New Hopes

As Cuba celebrates on January 1 the 55th anniversary of the triumph of the Revolution which swept into power a new government led by the charismatic Fidel Castro, the deep freeze in relations with its giant neighbour shows signs of thawing at last. President Obama’s December 17 announcement that diplomatic ties would be established, and some relief provided from the economic embargo against Cuba, brought cheer to both sides of the Florida straits, the 100 mile waters that separate the two countries. The full story of US-Cuba relations goes back to the 1890s, with many colourful and eventful chapters. Now the questions are — what will this opening lead to, and how it will impact the various stakeholders, and the region?
Obama’s announcement marks a bold admission that the economic embargo against Cuba has failed to bring about a regime change. Rather, it has enabled the regime to crack down on dissent, sometimes unwisely promoted by agencies within the US, and exploit the image of a small country defending its hard-won sovereignty against a giant and powerful imperialistic neighbour.
President Obama’s announcement has received complete international support, which should encourage him and his supporters to move ahead. The US dropping its opposition to Cuba’s integration into regional architecture of Latin America will help the entire region to move forward. Cuba and the US must move to constructive engagement from destructive hostility.

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