US-Cuba: the reasons of an historical thaw


The US President Barack Obama clearly expressed the intention to end the embargo towards Cuba after more than 50 years. The measure was taken to put pressure on the communist government but it did not pay off indeed. Now there’s the thaw.

President Obama’s intention to resume diplomatic relations with Cuba won’t end America’s embargo on the island, but it is an historic first step toward reducing the 50-year-old sanctions and the US-Cuba enmity behind it. From Havana, Cuban President Raúl Castro affirmed his government’s willingness for dialogue on “profound differences” between the countries, “particularly on issues related to national sovereignty, democracy, human rights and foreign policy.” Travel and trade restrictions will ease, and Castro is allowing wider Internet access on the island.

The UN General Assembly has voted 23 times to demand the US to end the Cuba embargo. In 2014, 188 out of the 193 countries voted in favor of a resolution titled “Necessity of Ending the Economic, Commercial and Financial Embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.”

Why this sudden openness? Because sanctions aren’t working, perhaps? Putting economic pressure on the government should have promoted democratic reforms and helped the opposition: this has failed to happen. There’s no doubt that American sanctions have hurt Cuba’s economy, but if the embargo has surely made life harder for Cubans, there is no real proof of a consistent damage to the Communist government.

Freedom House ranks Cuba as the only unfree Western country, as a result of widespread arrest and detention of dissidents and strict press censorship. Hence the decades of embargo have not improved human rights whatsoever.

Moreover, not only has the US realized that even Cuban-Americans, the group with the most reason to support the sanctions, are becoming more open to ending them. It’s also become increasingly true that there is no longer one unified “Cuban vote” that politicians can court.

“I look forward to engaging Congress in an honest debate on lifting this embargo” said President Obama in his statement. It’s important, though, to remember that he does not have the power to lift it on his own. Even though the President does have some authority, the Congress has the ultimate power, as federal laws are concerned. And it does not plan to make many significant moves on the matter any time soon, nor is a new embassy in Cuba in the upcoming agenda. Republicans, who recently regained control of both the House and the Senate, are unlikely to want to be seen as supporting a President’s initiative. Senator Marco Rubio just referred to Obama as the “worst negotiator that we’ve had as president since at least Jimmy Carter, and maybe in the history of this country,” and accusing him of “coddling dictators and tyrants.”

Obama could still make business licenses much easier to get, and he can even remove certain sanctions on weapons and technological imports by changing the Cuban classification as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. Finally, the President could ease diplomatic relations facilitating talks and meetings between the ambassadors.

Yoani Sánchez, a Cuban dissident writer, in a 2008 interview with the New York Times declared: “We live turned away from the sea because it does not connect us, it encloses us”. Perhaps, starting today Cubans will look at it in hope for a renewed freedom. For further info:   Maria Felicita Ferraro

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