Best Drupal HostingBest Joomla HostingBest Wordpress Hosting
WORLD POLICY ON AIR

World Policy Journal is proud to share our weekly podcast, World Policy On Air, featuring former Newsweek On Air host David Alpern with timely insights from global affairs analyst Michael Moran of Transformative.io, risk and geostrategy consultants. Click here to subscribe on iTunes!

THE LATEST

AddToAny
Share/Save

Reconciliation’s Next Phase

By Lawrence Gutman

Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro met at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, and the first stage of reconciliation between the U.S. and Cuba came to an end. After a flurry of historic developments last week that included visits to both countries and addresses by Pope Francis, Obama, and Castro in New York, momentum for restored trade continues to build and the U.S. trade embargo is more vulnerable than ever before.

On Sept. 18, the day before Pope Francis’s arrival at José Martí International Airport, the White House announced that restrictions on trade and travel to Cuba, initially relaxed in January following the announcement of bilateral talks, have been significantly rolled back. Limits on financial remittances to the island have been lifted completely, U.S. citizens can now open bank accounts in Cuba, U.S. businesses can establish Cuban offices and subsidiaries, and U.S. telecom services can now offer services across the Florida Straits.

These measures reflect the Administration’s view that democratization in Cuba will flow from economic development and regional integration, a position that contradicts the logic of the fifty-four year old trade embargo. They also underscore the administration’s view that, absent the embargo’s near-term repeal by Congress, presidential action is the most effective catalyst of reform in Cuba that can be leveraged from abroad. As Treasury Secretary Jack Lew stated regarding the new rules, “[T]he U.S. is helping to support the Cuban people in their effort to achieve the political and economic freedom necessary to build a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba.”

It goes without saying that these measures were timed to coincide with the three-day papal trip to Cuba, and to seize on the global attention it drew to build momentum for further engagement. Pope Francis’s itinerary was officially intended to broaden and strengthen the Catholic Church in Cuba, but the visit underscored the roles of the pontiff and Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega in brokering détente between the two estranged neighbors.

An array of regional and global factors, including Venezuela’s decline as Cuba’s economic patron, U.S. ambitions to counteract Chinese investment in Latin America, and falling domestic support for the U.S. embargo certainly shaped the contours of reconciliation. But the Vatican’s engagement played a key role in enabling a smooth diplomatic process. As the first Pope from the New World, Francis orchestrated the greatest achievement in Western hemispheric relations of the 21st century thus far.

Expectations that the Pope would avoid the topic of U.S.-Cuban relations during his time on the island were dashed immediately upon his arrival. Standing on the airport tarmac before a welcoming audience, Francis praised, “an event which fills us with hope: the process of normalizing relations between two peoples following years of estrangement.“

At Sunday’s mass on the Plaza of the Revolution, he challenged the ideological rigidity of the Cuban state, declaring, “we do not serve ideas, we serve people.” Raúl Castro has expressed remarkable openness to the Catholic Church over the past year, and a banner of Jesus Christ bearing the words Vengan a mi (Come to me) adorned the Plaza of the Revolution during the papal mass. Pope Francis avoided specific comments on policy in favor of more pastoral pronouncements, but the policy implications of his visit were unmistakable.

On Monday, President Obama seized on the Pope’s favorable reception in Cuba to advocate for bilateral trade at the United Nations. He reiterated his administration’s view that the embargo has failed to advance the rights agenda on the island, and affirmed his commitment to promoting diplomacy, commerce, and individual exchanges through executive action. The President received a rousing, if predictable, ovation from the U.N. delegates for his statement, “I’m confident that our Congress will inevitably lift an embargo that should not be in place anymore.”

Castro followed Obama’s address by lauding the restoration of diplomatic ties and the “heroic and selfless resistance” of the Cuban people. As expected, he demanded that the U.S. return the Guantanamo Bay naval base to Cuban hands, compensate Cuba for a half-century of economic sanctions, and suspend “subversive and destabilizing activities” to undermine the Cuban state.

Yet the Cuban President largely avoided the bombastic, attention-grabbing language that has characterized prior Cuban addresses before the General Assembly. The fate of Guantanamo and the legacy of the embargo, as well as claims on properties expropriated by the Cuban government during the 1960s, will surely be contentious topics moving forward. But Castro’s reluctance to forcefully rebuke Washington and ruffle feathers on Capitol Hill reflects a significant tonal shift and a recognition that times have changed.

This recognition was front and center when Obama and Castro met on the sidelines of the Assembly with their senior diplomatic staffs. All things considered, their interactions were genial and relaxed. Castro reiterated his pre-requisites for reconciliation, and the two leaders presumably discussed the ongoing diplomatic agenda and the visit of U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker to Havana next week.

The past week’s events cap a historic nine-month period of diplomacy across the Florida Straits. The ideological hostility that has defined U.S.-Cuban relations since the dawn of the 1960s is dissipating, and the U.S. trade embargo remains the last institutional obstacle to restored ties. Yet despite the genuine momentum created over the last year, repeal is hardly a sure thing in the near term. The U.S. and Cuba may be poised to begin a new era of political and economic engagement, but the question of how long it will take the U.S. Congress to make that era a reality will be the focal point of reconciliation’s next – and hopefully final – phase.

*****

*****

Lawrence Gutman has conducted research on governance and foreign investment in Cuba as a Fulbright Hays Fellow and Tinker Foundation Fellow. He holds an M.A. in Latin American history from the University of Texas at Austin, and is based in New York. He tweets @lawrencegutman.

[Photo by Calixto N. Llanes]

Share/Save

Post new comment
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly. If you have a Gravatar account, used to display your avatar.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image. Ignore spaces and be careful about upper and lower case.
FALL FUNDRAISER

 

Around WPI

Jihad in Sub-Saharan Africa 

This paper, “Jihad in Sub-Saharan Africa: Challenging the Narratives of the War on Terror,” examines the history of Islamic movements in Africa's Sahel region to contextualize current conflicts.

World Economic Roundtable with Vicente Fox 

In this World Economic Roundtable, former Mexican President Vicente Fox discusses his current quest to make his country a hub for technology. 

Intern at World Policy


Want to join our team? Looking for an experience at one of the most highly sought-after internships for ambitious students? Application details here.

 

Al Gore presides over Arctic Roundtable 

As the United States prepares to assume chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2015, this inaugural convening of the Arctic Deeply Roundtables launches a vital conversation for our times. 

SPONSORED

When the Senate Worked for Us:
New book offers untold stories of how activist staffers countered corporate lobbies in the U.S.


MA in International Policy and Development
Middlebury Institute (Monterey, CA): Put theory into practice through client-based coursework. Apply by Feb. 1.


Millennium Project’s State of the Future 19.0: Collective Intelligence on the Future of the World

WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

To learn about the latest in media, programming, and fellowship, subscribe to the World Policy Weekly Newsletter and read through our archives.

World Policy on Facebook

FOLLOW US