In the last few months, and this past weekend in particular, some major strides have been made in the process of normalizing relations between Cuba and the US – but there is still a lot of work to go.
The Panama Summit
The Panama Summit is really all anybody is talking about right now, and for good reason. On April 10th and 11th, the 7th Summit of the Americas was held in Panama City. The Summit was a chance for leaders in North America, Central America, and South America to meet and discuss issues without Europe or China butting in.
The main talking point going into this summit was the presence of Cuba. Many countries had previously said they would boycott the summit if Cuba was not invited. After last years announcement that the US and Cuba would begin normalization of relations, America dropped its perennial objections to Cuba’s presence. The stage was now set for talks between President Obama and President Raul Castro.
The first in-person sit down between the leaders of the two countries occurred at the summit on Saturday. While there weren’t any huge decisions made, the importance of such a meeting occurring in the first place is indeed a big enough event on its own.
The rhetoric from both leaders reiterated the desire to look forward into a future of positive relations, with Obama proclaiming, “the Cold War is over.” President Obama is correct here and, despite Russian relations seemingly going the opposite direction, the general opinion seems to be that the embargo and absence of formal relations is no longer necessary in the modern world. Despite this, both leaders recognized that there are still many differences between the two countries, both in foreign policy and the way in which they conduct their affairs at home.
As far as the summit goes, both countries can view the historic meeting and conference itself as a victory. Despite some anti-US rhetoric among the participants, especially from Venezuela’s President Maduro, there is widespread support for thawing US/Cuban relations. Plus, the last Summit of the Americas featured the Secret Service hiring prostitutes in Columbia, so this summit was objectively more productive.
What’s standing in the way?
While opening formal diplomatic channels is relatively simple and in the hands of the executives, normalizing relations as a whole still has many sticking points. One of the main American objections to Cuban politics is the authoritarian nature of Castro’s rule. Dissent is quickly dealt with and, though Raul Castro said he would not seek re-election in 2018, the Communist Party is not willing to open the leadership of the country up to a Game of Thrones.
For Cuba’s part, they still want to be removed from the US State Department’s list of terrorism sponsors. Though it is expected that Obama will move to get Cuba off the list, until it does happen, it will be a roadblock in the way of diplomacy. The main reasons Cuba is on the list are for sheltering members of FARC (Colombian guerrillas) and the ETA (Basque terrorists) as well as various American fugitives. Though Cuba has shown moderate willingness to return some American criminals, they are unlikely to expel everyone who has sought refuge in the country.
Much like the last time we looked at US/Cuban relations, things seem to be moving in the direction of normalization but they are not there yet. The Summit has helped to increase positive opinion of the US in Latin America as well as being viewed as a foreign policy victory for the President. Cuba meanwhile needs decade old economic sanctions to be removed. In other words, both countries have a vested interest in normalization and, barring a major surprise, things should keep moving in the same direction – at least under these administrations.
Check out our first story on the political process of normalization from a few months ago. If you’re planning on travelling to Cuba anytime soon, we also discussed what this could mean for tourism in the country. As an added bonus, you’re now able to watch Netflix in Cuba.
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