May 25, 2015
It has been five months since Presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama announced on December 17 their intention to open a new chapter in relations between the United States and Cuba.
After an historic meeting between both leaders at the 7th Summit of the Americas, on May 21, the third round of conversations began in Washington, with the goal of advancing toward the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies in both countries,.
Although talks between the U.S. and Cuba are already, in themselves, a milestone for two neighboring countries which have lacked formal ties for more than half a century, they only mark the beginning of a much longer and complicated process.
Inaccuracies and distorted information have accompanied this process from the beginning. Granma shares with its readers seven key points which clarify the dimension of what is happening between Havana and Washington and the coming stage.
- The two Presidents made a decision, now comes the implementation.
On December 17, among other decisions of importance to both peoples, Raúl Castro and Barack Obama simultaneously announced their intention of re-establishing diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, severed more than half a century ago.
However, in order for this step to be realized, the Presidents’ decision must now pass through the official channels of their respective countries.
This process is being advanced by the delegations which met in Havana and Washington for various rounds of conversations and technical encounters.
These meetings are important as they establish the bases on which diplomatic relations will operate, so as not to repeat past mistakes.
- Neither party has imposed conditions for the reestablishment of relations.
One of the mass media’s main lines of attack against the conversations has been to talk of “conditions” imposed by the two parties.
Both the Cuban and U.S. diplomats have clearly stated that the work environment has been marked by respect and professionalism, with conversations taking place in a climate of reciprocity and free from interference.
What Cuba has done since the beginning of this process is highlight aspects which would must be resolved before further progress can be made; including the end of the country’s unjust inclusion on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and the restoration of banking services for its mission in Washington, which has been without these services for more than a year.
Reports indicate that both issues are in the process of being resolved.
U.S. representatives have questioned restrictions on the mobility of their staff at a future embassy in Havana (the movements of Cuban diplomats in Washington is currently limited), as well as Cubans’ access to their facilities.
In this regard, Cuba has insisted on the importance of adhering to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic and Consular Relations, which establishes the importance of observing the laws of the host country and not interfering in its internal affairs.
Members of a mission must be able to interact with citizens of the host country, but also respect local norms, a Cuban diplomat recently explained.
- Reestablishment of relations is not the same as normalization of relations
Another common mistake often made, is confusing the process of reestablishing diplomatic relations with the normalization, which is a longer and more complex process.
After embassies have been opened in both capitals, the challenging search for “normality” between both countries, which share a tumultuous history, will begin.
Cuban authorities have highlighted various points which they consider to be vital to addressing normalization: the lifting of the blockade; the return of the illegally occupied Guantanamo Naval base territory, an end to subversive radio and television broadcasts; the cancellation of U.S. plans to promote regime change; and compensation for the damages caused to the Cuban people over half a century of aggression, among others.
It has never been stated that these issues need to be resolved in order to open embassies, as some media agencies have erroneously stated, although U.S. authorities have recognized Cuba’s position.
“Completely normal relations do not include an economic embargo, or economic sanctions,” a U.S. State Department official – who asked to remain anonymous – recently stated.
Without a doubt, this new stage includes discussion of other important issues for both countries. But Cuba has clearly expressed that it can not be expected to “give something in exchange.” Cuba does not apply any sanctions on the United States, nor does it have military bases in U.S. territory, or promote regime change.
Likewise, Cuba has said that the U.S. cannot demand that the country renounce its ideals of independence and social justice, nor cede a millimeter in its defense of national sovereignty.
- Washington’s change of policy is a victory for the Cuban people and Latin American integration
It wouldn’t be conceited to recognize, as the majority of the international community has, that Cuba has arrived at this point as a result of almost half a century of heroic struggle and loyalty to its principles.
Likewise, it wouldn’t be possible to analyze a policy change of this magnitude without understanding the new era our region is experiencing, and the firm and courageous demand made by the governments and people of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
In the 2nd CELAC Summit held in Havana, an unprecedented regional document was signed: the declaration of the hemisphere as a Zone of Peace, which recognizes “The inalienable right of every state to choose its political, economic, social and cultural system, as an essential condition to guarantee peaceful coexistence among nations.”
- The United States has changed its methods, not its objectives
One of the greatest questions which has followed this process is what does the U.S. policy change entail and how far does it go. There is no easy answer and perhaps it is too early to carry out a thorough analysis.
When President Obama made his announcement, he said that after 50 years of a failed policy, it was time to try something new.
Obama speaking in Panama noted – in reference to Cuba – that “The United States will not be imprisoned by the past – we’re looking to the future.”
However, U.S. authorities have stated on various occasions that its methods, not its objectives, are changing. These objectives have been – since January 1, 1959, to overthrow the Cuban Revolution.
In his speech during the 7th Summit of the Americas, Obama commented, “We’re not in the business of regime change,” remarks which filled many with hope.
However, millions of dollars are still being openly channeled toward financing subversion in Cuba, to which must be added other undeclared funds.
For their part, Cuban authorities have never demonstrated naivety. “No one should dream that the new policy announced means acceptance of the existence of a socialist revolution 90 miles from Florida,” said Raúl in his speech during the 3rd CELAC Summit.
- Obama can do more
In addition to the December 17 announcement, Obama also implemented a group of measures modifying a small number of blockade regulations, although the aggressive policy remains in force.
Cuba has recognized Obama’s decision to engage in a debate with Congress in order to put an end to the blockade, something no other U.S. president has done.
Nonetheless, reports by the media that the President “has done everything possible,” are false.
If he is determined, Obama can use his broad executive powers to substantially modify the application of the blockade, even without the approval of Congress.
He could – for example – permit, in other sectors of the economy, all that he has authorized in the arena of telecommunications, with evident objectives of political influence in Cuba.
- The issue of sovereignty is no longer off-limits
One of the lessons of the last five months – and perhaps the last year and a half of discreet conversations – has been that Cuba and the U.S. can address any issue as long as it is done within a framework of respect.
Cuba has demonstrated its willingness to discuss topics which have historically been used and manipulated to attack our county, such as democracy, free speech and human rights, about which the nation has much to show and contribute.
Perhaps the most important point of all, and that which summarizes this article, is that the greatest challenge facing Cuba and the United States is establishing a relationship of civilized co-existence based on respect for their profound differences.