U.S.-Cuban Relations Aren’t Normalizing As Fast As You Might Think
Posted: 02/09/2015 7:45 pm EST Updated: 02/09/2015 7:59 pm EST
The U.S. and Cuba joint announcement on Dec. 17 that they would work
toward re-establishing diplomatic relations seemed to symbolize the
dawning of a new era for the Cold War foes.
But in the weeks that followed, Cuban officials have demanded that the
U.S. meet ambitious conditions before describing diplomatic relations as
“normalized,” highlighting obstacles that remain to mending the
At a summit of Latin American leaders in San José, Costa Rica, last
month, Cuban head of state Raúl Castro said the U.S. would have to
return the territory upon which the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo is
built and do away with the trade embargo before relations could be
The top Cuban official charged with U.S. diplomacy, Josefina Vidal, said
last week the U.S. also must tone down its financial support for
political dissidents on the island before the two countries can reopen
U.S. officials have responded that returning Gitmo isn’t on the table,
and that support for dissidents will continue. The authority to end the
embargo rests not with the Obama administration, but with the
Republican-dominated U.S. Congress, which is unlikely to pass such
The Cuban demands haven’t derailed diplomatic talks, scheduled to
continue in Washington next month. But they show that, even as the U.S.
and Cuba roll out the closest thing to diplomatic rapprochement in a
half-century, major divisions continue.
U.S. law mandates that the federal government support the dismantling of
Cuban communism. The U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, for example, is
aimed at toppling the Communist regime.
Wayne Smith, a former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana —
the top American diplomatic post — told HuffPost that he expects
diplomacy to improve, but the relationship will remain tense.
“Yes, we’re going to move toward diplomatic relations, but we are a long
way from normal relations,” Smith said. “Still, it’s good that we’re
talking. And apparently we’re going to have embassies to talk about
these things that we basically disagree about.”
Arturo López-Levy, an academic who studies the Raúl Castro
administration, said any improvement in communication marks progress,
but harmonious relations remain a lofty goal.
“They are trying to get a deal on this issue,” López-Levy said,
referring to the re-establishment of embassies. “And I think that part
of getting the deal is about being constructive, about framing that this
is not about normalization — this is about building a relationship. If
you try to set very ambitious goals, you are setting yourself up for
Others, however, say the conditions Cuba has imposed on improving
diplomatic relations point to backtracking by the Cuban government.
“Here’s the thing — the normalization of relations with Cuba scares the
Cubans,” Jason Marczak, a Latin America expert at the Atlantic Council,
told HuffPost. “The Cubans were not prepared for everything the
president announced on Dec. 17. The fundamental structure of the [Cuban]
regime is based on slow, orderly transition and what was announced on
Dec. 17 was a series of potentially very fast and chaotic movements that
could fundamentally reshape the island.”
The next major test will be whether the two countries can hammer out a
deal to reopen their embassies for the first time since 1961 before the
region’s leaders gather at the Summit of the Americas in Panama in April.
Marczak said the U.S. “would love to come to the Summit of the Americas
with an embassy,” but Cuban officials have said they first expect the
U.S. to ease banking restrictions and to remove Cuba from the U.S. list
of state sponsors of terrorism.
The Obama administration ordered the State Department to review Cuba’s
inclusion on the list in December when announcing the changes in
diplomacy. The list subjects Cuba to additional sanctions beyond the
An updated version of the list will be published in April, according to
the news service EFE.
Source: U.S.-Cuban Relations Aren’t Normalizing As Fast As You Might