By Naomi Friedman, Staff Writer
U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro met in private Saturday, April 11, during the seventh Summit of the Americas held in Panama—a first in 50 years.
“Making History”—from the New York Times to the Granma, the official newspaper of Communist Cuba, the entire international press salutes the new era starting between the United States and Cuba. The 49-minute meeting was labeled by Obama as “historic,” while Castro reminds the press at a news conference wrapping up the summit meeting that “our governments will continue to have differences.” “At the same time,” he said to the New York Times, “we agreed that we can continue to take steps forward that advance our mutual interests.”
Once the Cuban Revolution succeeded in 1959, the island becoming a socialist state with Fidel Castro as its leader, relationships between the U.S. and Cuba worsened considerably. A year later, the U.S. placed an embargo on exports to Cuba as a riposte after the island nationalized American-owned Cuban oil refineries without compensation. In 1962, a few months prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis, as Castro became closer to the USSR, the embargo was extended to include almost all imports. Cuba became officially communist in 1965 and was governed by Fidel Castro until his death in 2008. Raúl Castro, his brother, is now president of Cuba and desires to maintain its revolutionary roots.
Today, Cuba and the U.S. face a long and complicated path before normal relations are reestablished. The immediate next step to this start of reconciliation would be the opening of embassies in Washington D.C. and Havana—a difficult process after more than 50 years of animosity. In a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article, it is explained that in order to open a Cuban embassy in Washington it would require access to the U.S. banking system, which is currently blocked to Cuba.
Both leaders have been talking about the lifting of the 55-year-old embargo, which consists of economic sanctions against Cuba and restrictions on Cuban travel and commerce for all people and companies under U.S. jurisdiction. This, however, will probably not happen before Obama leaves office in January 2017. Indeed, such a decision would necessitate a vote from Congress, who already has strong oppositions to normalizing U.S. ties with the Castro Regime.
Most U.S. allies support the lifting of the embargo, and Krissie Butler, assistant professor of Spanish at Asbury University, agrees. “55 years did nothing to help Cuba,” she said. “Castro is still in power.”
Considering the failed goal of the embargo was to transition Cuba to democracy and improve human rights, a White House official said, “This is being done because we believe the policy of the past has not worked and we believe the best way to bring democracy and prosperity to Cuba is through a different kind of policy.”
Normalizing economic exchanges with the U.S. will transform Cuba. The WSJ notes how the steps Obama has already taken to free up commerce and travel have prompted a surge of tourism on the island of 11 million people. Additionally, more businesses, such as Citigroup Inc, are now looking at the potential in the Cuban market.
Cuba wants to restore ties to the U.S. mainly due to economic needs and has no intention of transitioning to capitalism soon. In a WSJ article, 83-year-old Castro says, “We shall continue working to update the Cuban economy model with the purpose of improving our socialism.” It seems the American Model in Cuba will have to wait a little longer.