Efforts are being made to improve diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. Does the future look bright for these two countries?
Where in the world?
By Akshay Narayan
|Barack Obama and Raúl Castro, the Cuban President, shake hands at Nelson Mandela’s
Memorial Service in December 2013. (Photo: ABC News)
Since 1961, the USA has maintained a commercial, economic and political embargo against Cuba. It was only 53 years later, in December 2014, that US President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced the start of a process to normalise relations between the two countries.
During the Cold War, tensions between the US and Cuba were ridiculously high and the world came to the brink of nuclear war with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The Soviet Union began placing missiles on Cuba (within striking distance of the contiguous United States), after which the US Navy blockaded Cuba from Soviet nuclear missile-carrying ships. If one more Soviet officer on the submarine had concurred, a nuclear missile would have been launched towards the United States, resulting in the complete annihilation of the human race.
This new agreement to normalise relations is known as the ‘Cuban Thaw’ and involves the lifting of some US travel restrictions, giving American banks access to the Cuban financial system, and the reopening of American and Cuban embassies in Havana and Washington respectively, after they were closed back in 1961; a positive sign for the future.
However, the biggest observable change in the White House’s policy towards Cuba has to be a prisoner swap that took place in December 2014. Three Cuban intelligence agents who had been imprisoned in the US since the 1990s were swapped for American aid contractor Alan Gross, who was arrested and imprisoned in Cuba in 2009, and Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, an American spy. Cuba also released 53 political prisoners, suggesting a change of heart in the leadership of the communist state.
|Fidel Castro in 2011. (Photo: Reuters)
President Obama is quite different from his predecessor, the almighty genius George W. Bush, in his approach to Cuba. In a desperate attempt for the support of Cuban Americans during his election campaign, Bush emphasised his opposition to the Cuban government and his support for tightening the embargo. Again in 2004, after Bush’s re-election, Cuba was identified as a State Sponsor of Terrorism by the US Department of State, because Castro had visited Libya, Iran and Syria. That apparently means he supports terrorism against the US, actual evidence of which is yet to be found. Thankfully, Mr Obama is more sensible and less ignorant, as he has recently called for a review of Cuba’s status as a terrorist state.
Regardless, the United States maintains a massive naval base, Guantanamo Bay, on the island. The land was leased to the US by Cuba back in 1903, but the Cubans have insisted that Guantanamo Bay be handed back to them. The US has continued to refuse, mainly because of the strategic importance of Guantanamo. As well as containing a detainment camp for terrorist suspects (among a number of innocents), it is a strategic position to maintain US control of the Caribbean.
However, Castro has a large range of demands that he says must be met if the two countries are going to normalise relations. He demanded in January 2015 that the US end anti-Castro radio and television transmissions, end their support for Cuban dissidents and pay hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for losses caused by the embargo. He also demanded that Guantanamo Bay be handed back to Cuba.
The US needs to lift the embargo quickly. It has proved fairly useless ever since it was put in place in the early 1960s. Its purpose was to degrade Cuba’s economy to the point where the country became bankrupt. However, Cuba has managed to sustain itself, even after the collapse of its sponsor, the USSR. The embargo now exists just as a testament of ages past. However, support for it within Cuban Americans is split – a June 2014 poll in Miami-Dade County, Florida showed that 52% of Cuban Americans in the county opposed the embargo and 48% supported it.
|Mike Keef cartoon – 18.04.2009
The Cuban demands are mostly reasonable – the US has no need to broadcast anti-Castro radio and TV transmissions. However, US support for Cuban dissidents is understandable – until Cuba fully ends political repression, US support for Cuban dissidents has every right to continue. However, the Cuban demand to hand back Guantanamo Bay has quickly been rejected, and rightly so. The 1903 pact stands to this day, and the US has every right to keep the base. Cuba has an equal responsibility to ensure peaceful coexistence here – it can’t expect America to make all the changes.
Peaceful coexistence must be encouraged between both countries. The US has its right to keep Guantanamo Bay, but it must lift travel bans and encourage trade with Cuba. The embargo is useless. Within a matter of a decade, it will stop being socialist. The Cold War ended 24 years ago.
Grow up quickly, both of you.
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