After almost 55 years of the US embargo on Cuba, the results of recent secret meetings between the two countries are pointing towards a possible end. President Obama has called for a normalization of diplomatic relations. While this is still a fair ways away from coming to fruition, these recent events are colloquially known as the ‘Cuban Thaw’.
While some consider the practical effects for tourists that will come with this, we have to understand a few of the details of what is actually going on. What will change from a political perspective and – just as importantly – when will it happen?
The Cuban Thaw is happening
Well what hasn’t happened as of yet is a flood of American’s jetting off to Cuba for a spontaneous vacation. American’s no longer need a special permit to visit Cuba, however, the administration still has various restrictions in place.
Generally as an American citizen you need to have Cuban relatives,an educational/academic purpose, or travel through an approved Cuban tour company. The approved tours, unfortunately for American’s, don’t allow free reign of the island – meaning you can’t partake in recreational activities such as the beach, generally seen as pretty key Cuban attraction. While the goal is to lift restrictions entirely – making Cuba as accessible for Americans as the Dominican Republic for example – this has not happened as of yet.
Can I buy a Cuban cigar?
Yes. In addition to the easing of some restrictions, visitors to Cuba are allowed to bring back $400 (USD) worth of souvenirs. What most people seem to care about though is that this includes a $100 allotment for Cuban cigars. You can ask your local cigar connoisseur whether this is a lot or not, but from what our clients have recently told us, $100 won’t go an incredibly long way if you’re looking for the best quality.
It goes both ways
Beyond being able to smoke a cigar or two, the US and Cuba also initiated a high profile prisoner exchange. 3 remaining members of the ‘Cuban Five’ – 5 convicted Cuban spies on US soil – were returned to Cuba while a USAID worker, Alan Phillip Gross, was sent back home. He even received a prime seat at this year’s State of the Union. It may not make up for 5 years of imprisonment but at least its something, right?
What’s standing in the way of reconciliation?
Both the US and Cuba expressed concern about their opposite number’s human rights record, though neither was overly inclined to go into more detail. In addition, Cuba is still on America’s list of states that sponsor terrorism, which the Cuban’s unsurprisingly would prefer not to be on. The main point arguably is the economic embargo that remains in place. Cuba wants this completely removed before further deals are made.
While it hasn’t been a tidal wave of change, things do seem to be moving in the direction of full normalization. Recent talks in Havana (the first bilateral talks in 5 years) were “productive”. So while both the US and Cuba agree that they should see each other again sometime, they didn’t exactly get lucky on the first date.
President Obama is pushing for the economic sanctions to be removed, although he faces some domestic opposition from a Republican controlled house and senate. Lawmakers such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) – a Cuban-American – oppose the ‘Cuban Thaw’. If the last few years of American politics are anything to go by, expect this to be a prolonged policy battle.
What should you expect?
Ideally, the two countries hope to open permanent embassies in the respective capitals. If all goes well, there could be millions of American’s flooding down to Cuba en masse, bringing back cigars to impress their friends.
Be that as it may, there appears to be an appetite for change on both sides. Even Fidel Castro – who’s evidently still kicking – seems to welcome the change. While making it clear that he does not trust the US (a feeling that is most likely mutual), he did say:
Well there you have it. The Castro’s and the current US administration will in all likelihood continue to negotiate and whittle down the roadblocks to normalization. Even US credit card companies and airlines are getting on the bandwagon to offer services to, from, and in Cuba. While this bodes well, the (in some cases significant) opposition and difference of opinion between and within the countries is still present.
If you’re a Canadian citizen who wants to experience Cuba before it – in all likelihood – gets a significant facelift by the American population, you still have some time. If you’re an American who wants to travel to Cuba for a winter getaway, you can put those bags away – you’re going to have to wait it out a little longer.
Keep checking the Current for more about the progress (or lack thereof) in US/Cuban negotiations.
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