A pivotal shift to Cuba

>American President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba is a remarkable moment in global diplomacy for various reasons. Till a few years ago, a U.S. President walking down the streets of Old Havana with his family, meeting the Cuban leader at the Palace of Revolution and even saying that the U.S. should face up to criticism by Cuba — all would have looked beyond imagination. The two countries, bitter foes during the Cold War era, remained hostile towards each other even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, till President Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raúl Castro — who succeeded his brother and leader of the Cuban revolution Fidel Castro in 2008 — >began a process of rapprochement in December 2014. Over the past several months, Washington took a number of steps, including removing Cuba from its list of nations charged with sponsoring terrorism, to restore confidence in bilateral relations. Havana reciprocated by reopening its embassy in Washington. Mr. Obama’s visit, the first by a U.S. President since 1928, is the symbolic culmination of this diplomatic engagement. It confirms the view that Washington’s traditional Cuba policy, rooted in Cold War animosity, is way past its use-by date. In July 2015, after both countries >announced that they would restore diplomatic relations, Mr. Obama said the U.S. had been “clinging to a policy that was not working”. Despite U.S. efforts to weaken the Communist Party’s rule, Cuba stood tall in Latin America. Even those who expected Cuba to fall after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, as the country was largely dependent on aid from Moscow, were proved wrong. A new wave of socialist forces in the continent actually strengthened Cuba’s standing in the region. The blunted opposition of the Cuban American community towards Havana, as well as the demand from American capitalist sections, especially big farming, for new markets, may also have influenced Mr. Obama’s thinking. Cuba’s positive responses to U.S. overtures, mainly driven by economic imperatives, set the stage for a grand deal.

But the road ahead may not be all that smooth. The hour-long joint media conference in Havana, despite all its hype, also exposed old grievances. President Castro >demanded that the embargo be lifted and Guantánamo returned to Cuba for full normalisation of relations. President Obama said he had pressed the Cuban leader over his country’s treatment of dissidents. All this indicates that full normalisation of ties will take time. The removal of sanctions needs Congressional approval, which, given the opposition to the rapprochement from Conservative Republicans, is unlikely to come in the near future. Also, it has to be seen what the next U.S. President’s Cuba policy will be. On the other side, Cuba is unlikely to radically overhaul its approach towards dissent. Nor does the Communist Party have any plan to end its monopoly over power. But future challenges should not cloud the significance of this week’s breakthrough. Mr. Obama and Mr. Castro have created a historic momentum in bilateral ties, and it is up to the next generation of leaders to build on it.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2021 10:37:22 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/A-pivotal-shift-to-Cuba/article14169559.ece

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