United States and Cuba to Improve Diplomatic Relations

The end of the 50-year standoff in diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba holds promise for ongoing discussions about positive future developments.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama ordered for the nation to repair its alliance with Cuba and vowed to “cut loose the shackles of the past.” It's a shocking piece of news that comes as the result of a series of secret negotiations that have taken place over the last 18 months. These discussions resulted in a prisoner swap, monitored by Pope Francis, and concluded with a telephone call between President Obama and president of Cuba Raúl Castro on Tuesday. The Times reported that the phone call between the two presidents lasted more than 45 minutes—the first direct constructive attempt at contact between the leaders of the two countries in more than 50 years.

Obama announced the deal in a nationally televised address: “We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries.” Castro spoke simultaneously on Cuban television, saying, “We have been able to make headway in the solution of some topics of mutual interest for both nations.” Emphasizing the release of the Cubans, he announced, “President Obama’s decision deserves the respect and acknowledgment of our people.”

According to President Obama, this arrangement will “begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas” and move beyond a “rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”

However, both Obama and Castro acknowledge that this agreement by will by no means result in friendship. “This in no way means that the heart of the matter has been resolved,” Castro explained. “The economic, commercial and financial blockade, which causes enormous human and economic damages to our country, must cease.” Yet, he added, “the progress made in our exchanges proves that it is possible to find solutions to many problems.”

By acting to improve relations with Cuba, the President is going into a diplomatic arena that the last 10 presidents refused to enter. While the infamous embargo will remain in place, the president called for an “honest and serious debate about lifting” it, which would require an act of Congress.

Nevertheless, the United States will begin to ease current restrictions on remittances, travel and banking between the two nations, and Cuba will allow more Internet access and release 53 prisoners identified as political prisoners by the United States. The administration is also looking to reconsider Cuba's status as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Obama’s decision will also allow for family visits, public performances, and professional, educational and religious activities; however, ordinary tourism will still be banned under the law. Obama will also allow greater banking networks, which will allow U.S. citizens in Cuba to use credit and debit cards in Cuba.

Surely, for many Americans an exciting aspect of this development is that U.S. visitors will now be able to return to the U.S. with the notoriously Cuban cigars. Cuban rum is also allowed.

President Obama is adamant that improving relations with Cuba is the next and best step towards developing peace. “These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked,” he said. “It’s time for a new approach.”

A major factor in Obama’s firm decision, according to CNN, is his belief that restoring ties with Cuba may no longer be politically unthinkable because of the generational shift among Cuban and Americans; today, many youth are open to change.

No doubt President Obama’s latest action concerning Cuba will impact how he ultimately defines the end of his presidency. Throughout his two terms, the president has increasingly pushed the limits of his executive authority in domestic and international policy-making, but perhaps this latest shove will result in more positivity that criticism.

Do you support President Obama's decision to re-open relations with Cuba?