US-Cuba: The Ice is Thawing… For Now
The success of the Cuban Revolution in January 1959 was marked by a change in U.S.-Cuban relations. The previous Cuban government, headed by Fulgencio Batista, was backed by the United States, but the new government, overthrown following the events of the Cuban Revolution, heightened Cold War tensions as Fidel Castro established a Soviet-aligned, communist regime approximately 90 miles off the coast of Florida. Today, the consequences of the Cuban Revolution persist in defining U.S.-Cuba relations.
On April 10th and 11th, U.S.-Cuba relations saw a major change for the first time in over 50 years. Raúl Castro, Cuba’s current president, and President Obama met to discuss their relationship and how to begin thawing relations between the two countries. According to sources, both leaders agreed to disagree on certain issues, but said that this should not affect improving relations. Contrary to what the photo may suggest, not much progress was actually made during this meeting. In reality, this meeting was more symbolic of the improvement in relations than an actual improvement.
Many Americans are skeptical of these recent talks. Some have criticized the move by pointing out how economically, Cuba’s policies remain mostly communist despite some changes made by President Castro, and that politically, Cuba remains a dictatorship – why should the United States open its doors to a country that seems to stand against American values? This is different than the United States dealing with dictatorships that it has had relations with for years – Cuba is a country that has been the United States’ antagonist for 50 years and was, at one point, almost home to nuclear weapons that would have been aimed at millions of Americans. Given that many Americans still remember the Cuban Missile Crisis vividly, Cuba is a country that holds a certain ignoble place in the American imagination.
However, the question remains: why should the U.S. reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba now? It is worth remarking that the meeting between presidents comes after the U.S. has sanctioned Venezuela for human rights abuses. The thawing of U.S.-Cuba relations is a reaction to the decline in U.S.-Latin American Relations. Washington finds itself in complete opposition to Venezuela, criticized by Ecuador and Bolivia for being hypocritical in regards to human rights, and in conflict with a longtime ally Argentina after the Citibank crisis.
The easing tensions with Brazil is one way to assuage the continent as a whole, but perhaps the more effective and easy way of doing so is by rebuilding a relationship with Cuba. Cuba represented defiance to the United States and remains a complete antithesis to traditional American principles. By showing that the U.S. can forgive any past discrepancies and be tolerant of a regime such as the one in Cuba, it is acknowledging the sphere of influence that Cuba has constructed in Latin America.
For Cuba, this change in diplomatic relations may be a form of recognizing that the old regime is almost gone. Fidel Castro is now 88 years old and rarely appears in public. His children have been raised in complete privilege. Raúl Castro is now 83 years old. How much long can these men live and what happens to the principles of the revolution when they are no longer in power? Perhaps they hope that by moving closer towards the United States they will be securing a future for themselves and for their country.
The results of this meeting may not be clear, but some American politicians are already looking to profit from the slightest diplomatic change. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has already embarked on a journey to discuss a prospective trade agreement with Cuban officials. This comes in light of Obama’s statement that he plans to remove Cuba from the terrorist watch list. We will have to wait and see where this rapprochement goes from here.
- Isabella Schumann