By Rhea Arora
Elm Staff Writer
On Dec. 17, Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro announced that the US and Cuba would move toward diplomatic ties that had been severed in 1961 during the Cold War and Cuban Missile Crisis when Cuba began identifying itself as a member of the Soviet communist bloc.
The US has traditionally adopted economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation toward Cuba. The restoration of what have been sour relations came about after the exchange of a prisoner for a jailed US contractor in Havana. However, the US trade embargo, which requires congressional approval to be lifted, is unlikely to be changed.
The loosening of US travel restrictions, the re-opening of respective embassies in Havana and Washington DC, and the reduced constraints on remittances are all landmark changes- dubbed as “The Cuban Thaw.”
The normalization of international relations between the two countries is indicative of a possible political and social attitude change in Cuba. Instead of its conventional isolationist attitude, the US can now engage and mobilize the human rights movement in Cuba and attempt to bring about substantial improvements. Looking at it from a political standpoint, with greater interaction with the US and its ideas of liberty, Cuba could begin to adopt a more democratic government and encourage free speech and expression in a way it has not before. That, however, is thinking too far ahead.
An important thing to note is that Cuba is not the only beneficiary of the end of hostility between the two nations. The US now has an even stronger influence over surrounding territories and enjoys greater support from its neighbors. The agricultural and telecommunications industries in the US stand to benefit the most from the recent decision to open a dialogue with Cuba. There have also been talks of relieving economic sanctions to benefit US rice and poultry farms by opening up these exports to the Cuban population. American businesses have already started to take advantage of this political development; Kayak, an online travel website, has added Cuba as one of its locations, and American Express has expressed interest in launching programs in Cuba. The Associated Press reported that the US Chamber of Commerce would put pressure on Republicansto accept the new diplomatic ties.
Following President Obama’s move, eight senators introduced a bill to remove all restrictions on US citizens’ travel to Cuba. This is not only a gesture of good faith in the Cuban government but also a providence of greater freedom for Americans to travel wherever they please. However, some Senators have opposed the legislation on the grounds that engagement and involvement with the Cuban community is not enough to discourage militarily-dominated systems of government there, which could later become a threat to any visiting Americans.
Castro warned that, given the world-policing attitude of the US, if there was any interference in domestic issues of Cuba, the Cuban government would uphold its sovereignty and not hesitate to go back to the earlier state of turbulent relations.
The jury is still out on what the United States’ motive are are; whether this was truly a sign of true good faith from the US, an act of economic self-interest, or an attempt to undermine the Cuban government’s current system of government by asserting soft power over its population. However, taking an initiative to better international relations is the first step towards creating a political environment conducive to mutual growth from the US and Cuba and a historic and welcome change.