by Cuba Journal staff
After more than 50 years, the US and Cuba have today restored full diplomatic relations. A ceremony held today in Washington marked the opening of the Cuban embassy in Washington. With today’s re-establishment of diplomatic relations, both countries officially have fully operational embassies and will be able to fly their countries’ flags once again.
A ceremony for the opening of the American embassy in Havana is planned for August of this year when Secretary of State Kerry plans visit the island nation.
In 1959, Fidel Castro led a left-wing revolution that chased the right-wing dictator Fulgencio Batista from power and spawned a US economic embargo that remains in place even after today’s historical announcement.
Key Issues That Remain Unresolved
Points of law dominate the American perspective on unresolved issues with Cuba, having mostly to do with legislative matters that are beyond the scope of President Obama’s legal capacity.
According to US law, the embargo cannot be lifted unless Havana pays compensation for American properties nationalised following the 1959 revolution, now worth an estimated $7 billion. And the US is seeking its own concessions from Cuba on issues such as human rights and democracy.
The Cuban perspective on unresolved matters concern perceived historical injustice and the preservation of the current regime. The Cuban government has repeatedly indicated that relations could not be fully normalised without ending the embargo.
Another major point of contention is the return of the US military base at Guantánamo. Finally, the Cuban government seeks an end to US broadcasts directed at Cuba and, “programmes that aim to promote subversion and destabilization.”
At the ceremony to re-open embassies in Washington today, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Cuba’s Foreign Affairs minister, invoked a historical perspective for Guantámano’s return to Cuban control. He said, “The Platt Amendment, imposed in 1902 under a military occupation, thwarted the liberation efforts that had counted on the participation or the sympathy of quite a few American citizens and led to the usurpation of a piece of Cuban territory in Guantánamo. Its nefarious consequences left an indelible mark in our common history.”
In a previous statement, Raul Castro signaled a commitment to work through the remaining issues. Castro said, “A new stage will begin, long and complex, on the road toward normalisation, which will require the will to find solutions to the problems that have accumulated over more than five decades and hurt ties between our nations and peoples.”
In contrast to the excitement surrounding the restoration of diplomatic relations, some Cuban officials, as recently as last month, have expressed hard-line views reminiscent of the cold war era. In one case, Google executives traveled to Cuba to propose a project to allow the search engine giant to install free, island-wide WiFi Internet access.
Cuba’s First Vice President of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers, José Ramón Machado Ventura, explains why Cuba has no intention of taking Google up on its offer of free wifi: “Everyone knows why there is no internet in Cuba — because it’s so expensive. There are some who want to give it to us for free, but not so that the people of Cuba can communicate but because they want to infiltrate us ideologically so they can conquer us again. We need to have internet — but our kind — and be aware that imperialism is trying to use the technology as one more means of destroying the Revolution.”
In the US, several presidential candidates have expressed a willingness to roll back recent progress with Cuba until the regime addresses human rights issues and democratic reforms. In Congress, Democratic Cuban-American Senator Robert Menendez has been one of the most vocal opponents of the President Obama’s Cuba policy.
“It’s pretty amazing to me that, when our colleagues in the Senate go to visit Cuba, they do not visit with human rights activists, political dissidents, independent journalists, because if they do, they get barred from a [Cuban] government meeting,” said Menendez.