When leaders lead

Both U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro must be commended for doing things their predecessors failed to do in establishing diplomatic relations between their countries. With their decision, negotiated secretly over the past two years with the help of the Vatican and the Canadian government, restrictions on travel, banking and business will be eased, as prisoners held in both countries are repatriated. President Obama has also promised to push for an end to the trade embargo with Cuba through Congress, whose permission he needs to re-establish full relations with the estranged Caribbean neighbour. Relations between the U.S. and Cuba were snapped after Mr. Castro’s revolutionary brother Fidel Castro seized power in 1959 and established a communist state, nationalising all assets. The U.S.’s attempt to depose Fidel Castro, famously called the “Bay of Pigs invasion”, failed in 1961. Since then, the two countries have wasted no opportunity to hurt each other’s interests, unevenly matched as they were. The U.S. was unable to get other countries to back its sanctions against Cuba, while Cuba has obviously suffered economically for its isolation, even as its economy took a severe downturn after the collapse of its ally, the Soviet Union, in 1991 and the withdrawal of subsidies by Russia subsequently.

Since 2008, after Fidel Castro handed over charge to Raúl Castro, the country embarked on a series of economic reforms, and amongst other important changes opened a channel of negotiations with President Obama. Mr. Obama still has some heavy lifting ahead of him: the Republicans, who count the Cuban refugee community in the U.S. amongst its supporters, have already announced they would oppose the move. With their decision, announced simultaneously in Washington and Havana, the two leaders have chosen to put the dominant narrative of rancour and hypernationalism aside in favour of what Mr. Obama said was in the best interests of both countries. India has done well to immediately extend its greetings to both countries on the decision. New Delhi may do even better to heed Mr. Obama’s reasoning for this “most significant change in U.S. policy”, which hits closer home, especially for Mr. Modi, India’s first Prime Minister born after Partition. Both the U.S. and its smaller neighbour Cuba, said the U.S. President, had been hardly “well served by a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were even born”. The Nobel Prize-winning American author Ernest Hemingway, who lived in Cuba for years, famously wrote: “Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 4:47:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/editorial-when-leaders-lead/article6708753.ece

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