President Obama announced yesterday that US relations with its neighbour Cuba will be changing. In a speech given on Tuesday the President acknowledged that the US’ current relationship with Cuba was “outdated” and that it “no longer furthered our interests”.
In response the Cuban government acknowledged that it has re – established diplomatic relations with the US but that this does not mean that issues with the US have massively changed. It also noted that it welcomed such a move and hoped that blocks on the country would finally be lifted.
The move has been quite unexpected and the agreement reached via the help of Pope Francis; who earlier this year expressed his desire that relations were thawed between the nations. However, this change of heart was not only reached via religious intervention, but also political objectives. The announcement was made on the same day as Alan Gross, an American aid worker, who has been imprisoned in Cuba for the last five years on charges of being a spy returned to American soil. It also coincided with a spy swap between three Cubans already convicted of espionage In the US with an American spy imprisoned in Cuba.
So what will actually change after the announcement? Plans currently being looked at include reviewing travel restrictions for US citizens but most importantly look at the embargo still placed on the country by the United States which is now 52 years old. This re – establishment has started in a very tense manner and will most likely continue to do so. Obama has himself noted that relations will take a long time to change.
It remains to be seen exactly how the relationship will be re – established and what nature this new approach will take. Many observers have noted the difficulty that the President will have in going forward with this new policy following his defeat in this autumns elections; if an end to the existing trade embargo were to be sought the support of the US Congress would be needed. Republicans are unlikely to be as open to Cuban links as the President; indeed some Republicans have denounced the President’s new move as potentially dangerous. There are also the potential difficulties that the President may have in dealing with the Castro’s in the Cuban government.
There also remains the question of Cuba’s human rights issues. The US government have made clear that they wish to help improve the situation in the country and by no means support its current attitude in this area. Whether the Castro’s will welcome US input here remains unlikely.
So in the long run there is much to be done to “normalise” the relations between the two countries but this is definitely a step in the right direction. It will take time, effort and careful political management. What seems to have come out from this announcement is that the Cold War attitudes of the US towards its neighbours have definitely begun to thaw; from an international relations point of view this can only be a good thing.