It is heartening that Cuba is on track to reopen its embassy in Washington by July 20, in accordance with a previous agreement made with the U.S. government. According to Josephina Vidal, Cuban Foreign Ministry’s Director for the United States, “We are about to complete the first phase, which will close on July 20, when relations between Cuba and the US will be officially established; we will do the opening ceremony of our embassy in Washington.” On July 1, Washington and Havana officially announced that the two countries will re-open their embassies by July 20 as part of their efforts to reestablish diplomatic relations. However, Washington has met some backlash on the issue, as the Republican-controlled Congress has banned any possibility of funding the reopening of an embassy in Cuba. The move follows the joint decision last year by the two countries to reestablish diplomatic relations after 53 years. Despite Republican efforts to stop diplomatic relations from going ahead, Cuba is committed to the process, saying a second phase will begin after July 20.
History was made on Wednesday, November 17, when the United States President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, in simultaneous speeches from Washington and Havana, said they had exchanged American and Cuban prisoners each had held for years. Both leaders announced that they would also open a path to increased economic and travel ties between the two erstwhile feuding countries. This marked the end of more than a half-century of diplomatic isolation wrought in the course of the Cold War. It was indeed ennobling seeing President Obama announcing this major shift in U.S. relations with Cuba after the Cuban leaders released Alan Gross, an American who had been imprisoned in Havana for five years.
Obama had said then: “Isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach. I believe this contact will do more to empower the Cuban people.” The Cuban leader Castro on his part said: “We have decided to re-establish diplomatic relations. This decision by President Barack Obama deserves respect and recognition by our people.” Castro went ahead to call for a complete end to the U.S. economic blockade. Obama and Castro talked by phone for more than 45 minutes on Tuesday, December 16, the first substantive presidential contact between the U.S. and Cuba since 1961.
The negotiations for the release of Gross lasted about a year. Pope Francis played a pivotal role in the exercise. Of course both Obama and Castro thanked Pope Francis, the first Latin American Pontiff, in starting a dialogue between the two countries. Pope Francis had written letters to Obama and Castro, inviting them to “resolve humanitarian questions of common interest, including the situation of certain prisoners, in order to initiate a new phase in relations” between the two countries.
Obama revealed that business and travel ties will be launched, but then he will have to negotiate with the U.S. Congress over ending the country’s economic blockade against Cuba. The U.S. Treasury said that financial sanctions on Cuba will be amended. The White House also announced that the U.S. will unfreeze U.S. bank accounts of Cubans who no longer live in Cuba.
Matching his words with instant action, Obama has since asked the US Secretary of State John Kerry to review Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. Obama said: “This review will be guided by the facts and the law. A nation that meets our conditions and renounces the use of terrorism should not face this sanction.’’ Kerry who plans to travel to Cuba is exultant, stressing: “I look forward to being the first Secretary of State in 60 years to visit Cuba.” Kerry believes that as the U.S. did with Vietnam, changing the relationship with Cuba will require an investment of time, energy and resources. The U.S. will also work with Cuba on such issues as migration, counternarcotics, human trafficking and the environment.
The United States had imposed a trade embargo against Cuba in 1960; thus the two countries have not had official diplomatic relations since 1961. The U.S. enacted the embargo shortly after the 1959 Fidel Castro revolution that overthrew the General Fulgencio Batista regime.
The normalization of ties between the U.S. and Cuba has met with worldwide acclaim which we cherish. The United Nations Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon said he “heartily welcomes” moves by Cuba and American leaders to begin to mend relations between the two nations. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that Russia also welcomed the thaw in relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz hailed it as “the beginning of the end of the Cold War in the Americas.” For us, the re-establishment of ties between the U.S. and Cuba is a great idea whose time has come. The two neighbouring countries stand to gain much through good neighbourliness instead of bellicose actions.