The US and Cuba have not been on talking terms for over half a century. Diplomatic relations between the two countries have not existed since the early days of the cold war. The two countries never reconciled – despite the collapse of the Soviet Union over 25 years ago. Given this history, US President Barack Obama took a historic step on Wednesday to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, with the reopening of embassies in both countries for the first time after 1961. Obama is correct to admit that it is way past time for the US to re-establish diplomatic relations with socialist Cuba. Earlier, in Havana, a US diplomat delivered a note from Obama to Cuban President Raul Castro officially restoring ties. Castro expressed the desire to develop a relationship based on equality of rights and free will. He promised to resolve differences with the US through peaceful means and respect for each other’s internal politics. Despite tensions between the two countries remaining high due to a US commercial and financial embargo on Cuba, the step opens up the possibility of Cuba being reintegrated into the global economy.
While Obama has relaxed several trade and travel prohibitions, the ball is now with the Congress to lift the embargo on traveling to, or doing business in, Cuba. The Republican-controlled Congress, however, has shown no sign that it agrees with the president. Some have criticised Obama for opening an embassy in Havana before one in Jerusalem. Others feel the decision should be premised on Cuba allowing greater political freedom to the Cuban people. The posturing from Congress is only expected as the US turns further to the right. Diplomacy between the two countries restarted in 2014 after Cuba’s former president Fidel Castro stepped down. US Secretary of State John Kerry is due to travel to Cuba to formally open a US Embassy in Havana. Obama’s move has confirmed that the days of the Cuban missile crisis and CIA-backed attempts to overthrow the Fidel Castro regime are over. Cuba, which inspired many for being one of the last bastions against US imperialism, is also re-engaging the world economy on its own terms. Talking about the restoration of diplomatic ties, President Obama said, ‘You can’t hold the future of Cuba hostage to what happened in the past.’ The same holds true for the future of the US. It is hoped the US Congress will recognise that.