Since April this year, a series of steps have been taken by the United States to reach out to a neighbor and old foe: Cuba. Restrictions on the ability of individuals to visit family members in Cuba and send them remittances have been lifted. The longstanding embargo remains in place, but range of interaction expanded with the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) recently issuing the long-awaited final rule that implements changes to the US embargo on Cuba passed by Congress in March of this year.
Undoubtedly, taking these steps conduces to bridge the gap among divided Cuban families. Thus, the ice between the two foe countries was finally being broken.
Congratulations! US-Cuba relations! Surely, there are people expressing such good will.
But, as we can see, the ice is not and can not be broken in one day.
For half a century, the United States has pursued a policy of isolating Cuba in the hope that doing so would lead to the collapse of the island's Communist regime, but after many years it is still in vain. In the beginning, when Castro's revolutionary government took over the assets of American companies in Cuba, Cuban exiles flooded to US shores. At the time, perhaps it made sense that trade embargos were appropriate tools to press on a regime that had embraced communism.
However, as the years passed, and especially after the end of the Cold War, it became fairly obvious that the American boycott of this tiny country was a policy driven more by political allegiance to the anti-Castro Cuban-American community in Florida than a solid foreign policy decision that made sense for either nation.
Today, that policy is one of the last great historical anachronisms of the Cold War, outliving the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union.
Political realists in the US, such as Henry Kissinger, have argued for years that the policy undercuts US diplomatic efforts on a host of fronts because it is so widely disliked by other countries, especially in the Western Hemisphere. Human rights groups like Amnesty International have long pointed out that the US embargo policy is only an obstacle to improving human rights conditions, not an aid.
According to the National Security Archive at George Washington University, earlier in 1977, shortly after he took office, President Jimmy Carter signed a presidential directive, in which he stated "I have concluded that we should attempt to achieve normalization of our relations with Cuba." On May 12, 2002, Carter became the first US President, current or former, to visit Cuba since Castro's revolution in 1959. His five-day visit unofficially opened a dialogue between the two old neighboring foes.
At a non-governmental level, since 1999, the prospect of re-establishing US diplomatic relations with Cuba has been consistently favored by a majority of Americans, including a 60 percent approval rating reported in a 2009 Gallup Poll conducted after Obama's decision to relax some restrictions.
As for Cuba, the olive branch was sent out years ago. After the terrorists' attack on September 11, 2001, Cuban President Castro told the US that Cubans would offer their help, but his goodwill was ignored. Moreover, at the time, Cuba was alleged to be sponsoring terrorists.
Thus, the "ice" of the bilateral relations has been frozen time and again despite the warm atmosphere created by either side. What about this time? How far will Obama and his government go?
In a speech in Miami to the Cuban American National Foundation, a bastion of support for the existing policy, Obama promised to end the restrictions on Cuban American travel and remittances to Cuba. However, he also said, "As president, I'm not going to [end] the embargo; it's an important inducement for change." This is more or less his position today.
While people celebrated the fact that they can once again see their divided relatives or go to visit the beautiful island freely, it appears that there is still no big celebrating party for them to say "Congratulations!"
But, as the political winds change, the world may have reasons to hope the administration will put normalization with its small, defiant neighbor on a faster track.
Here's to hoping President Obama can lift the embargo and normalize the relations unilaterally.