Friday became the start of a new era in Cuba/U.S. diplomatic relations as Secretary of State John Kerry took a trip to Cuba on Friday ahead of the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana. On this historic day Kerry also raised the American flag above the U.S. Embassy in an act that has not been done in over 54 years. The Cold War standoff between the two countries is finally over.
Kerry is also the first top U.S. diplomat to even visit Cuba since World War II over 70 years ago. Kerry delivered a speech about taking steps to the future and moving away from the disconnect of the past that is sure to resonate with those who hear it.
“We are gathered here today because our leaders, President Obama and President Castro, made courageous decision to stop being the prisoners of history and to focus on the opportunities of today and tomorrow. This doesn’t mean we should or will forget the past.”
Kerry went on to prove that the U.S. is clearly acknowledging the part that they played in the rift that developed between them and the Cuban people. After Fidel Castro assumed leadership of Cuba, the U.S. severed ties in 1961 due to the dictator’s close relationship with the Soviet Union. The U.S. subsequently sponsored a failed invasion of Cuba that also sought to assassinate Fidel Castro. Castro and the Soviet Union strengthened their ties thereafter, and Cuba allowed the Soviet Union to store nuclear missiles on Cuba, aimed at America.
“The time has come for us to move in a more promising direction. In the United States, that means recognizing that U.S. policy is not the anvil on which Cuba’s future will be forged. Decades of good intentions aside, the policies of the past have not led to democratic transition in Cuba. It would be equally unrealistic to expect normalizing relations to have, in a short term, a transformational impact. After all, Cuba’s future is for Cubans to shape.”
Anti-American billboards have been removed and Cubans expressed their hopes that American visitors to the island will boost their economic standing and see social justice arise. Fidel Castro also gave a mild endorsement of the move to restore diplomatic relations. especially since President Barack Obama has lifted some travel and business restrictions. In May, Cuba was removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, and NBC News reported that in July, Cuban officials inaugurated their embassy in Washington.
These steps do not mean that some fundamental differences between the two countries have ceased to exist. Cuban American Senator Marco Rubio, also a GOP presidential hopeful, gave a speech at the Foreign Policy Initiative in New York City on Friday that warned against the tentative alliance.
“The deal with Cuba threatens America’s moral standing in our hemisphere and around the world, it brings legitimacy to a state sponsor of terror, and further empowers an ally of China and Russia that sits just 90 miles from our shore.”
CBS News coverage reported that the Cuban government had already failed to maintain some of their promises — namely giving its people access to credit cards and the internet. Though the U.S. embassy reopened its doors, Cubans are still not allowed to buy goods from the United States. However, hope still remains that the quality of life for the Cuban people will see an improvement as the diplomatic relations strengthen.
Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, who was a part of the American delegation to Cuba, welcomes the reopening wholeheartedly.
“The United States will be able to do much more to protect and serve U.S. citizens in Cuba and encourage a better future for the Cuban people with an American flag flying over our embassy in Havana.”
Senior officials in the administration have reassured the people that they are seeking the best possible routes that President Obama can establish to assist the Cuban people. Insight into the long-term plans was given by Senator Kerry.
“We remain convinced the people of Cuba would be best served by a genuine democracy, where people are free to choose their leaders, express their ideas (and) practice their faith.”
With only 16 months remaining in office, President Obama has the burden of proof to show that this was the right step. Hope remains strong that the U.S. and Cuban government are able to create long-lasting and profitable opportunities for travel, trade, and investment among the two countries.
[Photo Courtesy of Chip Somodevilla/ Getty Images]